Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Making Newham the First Ever Living Wage Borough

Newham Co-op Party and TULO Meeting on tackling Poverty

Last Thursday's meeting with guest speaker, local MP for West Ham, Lyn Brown (see centre of photo) to tackle poverty in Newham, East London (home of the 2012 Olympics) was probably one of the most constructive and positive local Labour Movement meetings that I have attended. This issue is all about helping to progress social justice and can unite all sections of the Party and trade unions.

The debate began by describing the good work that had been carried by trade unions such as the T&G and community groups elsewhere in London. Making sure large institutions such as Banks and Universities, check that all their staff (including sub-contractors such as cleaners and security staff) are paid a "living wage" in London (£7.05 p/hour). The "minimum wage" is a massive achievement for the Labour Government and those (relatively few) trade unions who fought for it. However, everyone who lives in London knows that the cost of living in the capital is far more than elsewhere (please note I was brought up outside London).

Lyn gave a detailed and sober speech describing the scale of the problem in Newham, with research that shows 20% of Newham workers earn less than the living wage and the impact that such low pay has on deprivation and crime. She also pointed out that raising pay levels alone will not be enough due to the extraordinary high level of rents in Newham. The benefit and tax system will also need to be reformed. The continued failure to treat Newham as an inner city borough with regard to the Government financial settlement also needs to be successfully challenged.

There was a wide ranging discussion with contributions from everybody present. Following which we decided: -

1. To Campaign for a Living Wage in Newham.
2. To work in partnership with Newham Labour group, Newham MP's Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms, other relevant elected politicians and local community groups (TELCO/Community Links) to achieve this aim.
3. A working Party should be set up to plan ahead John Saunders (UCU), Cllr Jon Knotts (UNISON), Cllr David Griffin (Amicus), Gloria Hanson (UNISON), John Whitworth (UCU), Cllr Amarjit Singh (TSSA) and me (UNISON).
4. It was proposed to identify several large employers (The Council, universities/colleges, Banks, Supermarkets? ) located in the borough and approach them to find out what they pay staff. If they fail to pay a living wage then to engage with these employers in order to make them change their mind.
5. Including approaching Pension fund trustees to consider lobbying fund managers and company AGMs?
6. With Lyn's help organise a delegation of Newham affiliates to lobby ministers.
7. Encourage trade union membership in Newham as the best way in the long term of improving pay and conditions.

I'll keep people posted on our success (or otherwise) however this is the sort thing that I think all London Labour Parties and trade union affiliates (and other areas outside London with above average living costs) should be working upon.

Tomorrow is the UNISON regional Labour Link forum and I will be proposing a motion regarding a "Living wage", which if accepted I will post later and which readers are welcome to use to submit to their own branches/wards.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Action Mesothelioma (Asbestos Cancer) Day 27 Feb 60 000 dead

From press release by Greater Mancherster Hazards Campaign.....
"Mesothelioma a fatal Asbestos cancer “60,000 to die from mesothelioma in the UK by 2050”
Football legend, Mike Summerbee, calls for action

England and Manchester City football star and legend, Mike Summerbee, will join hundreds of families in Manchester, Albert Square, at 12.30 pm, on Action Mesothelioma Day, 27th February to release sponsored balloons in support of research into mesothelioma, the fatal asbestos cancer which will kill 60,000 people in the UK from past exposure to Asbestos by 2050.....(see this link for rest of info)
If you work in a building which is say, more that 20 years old, ask to see the building asbestos register. If there is no asbestos fine (check how do they know?) - if not make sure everyone knows where it is located, get rid of it if it is "high risk", otherwise make sure it is properly monitored and marked. For UNISON stuff on this issue. JG

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On the way to discuss the Mortuary.... "Work your Proper Hours Day"

On Friday afternoon I was ironically, on my way to meet a manager and his advisor to discuss a TU safety inspection I had made on Poplar mortuary, when I witnessed the aftermath of this "accident". If you were stuck in a massive traffic jam in East London at this time, then this was the reason. It completely closed off the north bound A102, just before Bow flyover. Hopefully no-one was seriously hurt. I've got a interest since I have a Class 1 HGV licence and use to work as a lorry driver.
I don't know the reason for the crash. It was dry, light with little or no wind.
On Friday it was also "Work Your Proper Hours Day" and I wondered if working excessive hours and tiredness contributed to the accident? It brings home dramatically the dangers of work (and while I'm at it, isn't wrong that the HSE does not count those who are killed at work during road accidents in their figures? What is the difference between an accident in the workplace and on the road?).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Who do Trade Unions Represent?

If unions are to progress they must always reflect and represent their members, not extremist groups or factions. I think that there is a problem in some (not by any means all) trade union branches which needs to be addressed. I haven't got the answer and I'll be interested to hear any suggestions.

I think this example will illustrate what the problem is. There is an inner London trade union branch that I am aware of, who has about 4000 members who all work in a tightly defined geographical area. It is a wealthy branch with hundreds of thousands of pounds of assets and directly employed local administration staff.

However, at the branch committee last week, which is supposed to represent members and run the branch, out of 15 possible committee members the meeting started with just 6 present. Of which 4 were active members of the Socialist Workers Party/Respect, one a lifelong member of the former CPGB and the other a member of the Labour Party. A number of recent meetings had been inquorate

How can anyone in their wildest dreams think that this political make up actually reflects the membership of the branch?

No wonder that this committee continually passes SWP/Respect motions that hardly any of the branch would support and it also endorses (mostly) SWP/Respect candidates in union regional and national elections.

I understand that in this branch there are only 10 (at most) members who belong to SWP/Respect while there are over a 1000 Labour Party affiliate levy payers.

I know that some people may respond to this situation by saying its the membership's "fault" for not standing for election and not turning up at meetings. However, what if these meetings are so long, boring and irrelevant to main stream trade unionists, that they just cannot see why they should give up their lunch break to be lectured on the evils of the capitalist world.

For instance at this committee meeting there was no less than six motions to be "debated", some good ones but most regurgitated SWP/Respect propaganda (the Labour government are all war criminals etc etc).

I think that the answer to this problem is to empower and democratise the membership. That is the easy thing to say, the hard bit is how?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lobby Government Over Pensions Theft"

Okay, okay its not "theft" (by the government anyway) but the refusal to honour the ombudsman decision that people had been misled by the "government" of the day (nearly all under the Tories) over the safety of their schemes is plain wrong. The judicial review has by and large upheld this view. Come on Tony (George or even Michael - God forbid), sort this out. This is an own goal. Pension Theft have model letters to send to your MP's, sign the on-line petitions; ask your branch committees, trade councils, trade union political officers, local Labour Party's to get involved.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Newham Living Wage Campaign - Thursday 22 Feb - Lyn Brown MP

Lyn Brown MP speaks at meeting organised by Newham "Trade Unions for Labour" and Newham "Co-Operative Party". To discuss the campaign to make Newham a "Living Wage" borough.
Thursday 22 February 2007, 7.30pm for a 7.45pm, start West Ham Labour Party HQ, 306 High Street, Stratford, E15 1AG. All affiliated trade unionists/ Labour Party/Co-op members welcome. Please note that the Co-op Party will be holding its AGM immediately beforehand so please avoid arriving before 7.30.

Further details Contact John Gray Newham TULO 0795 769 6299 or John Saunders Newham Coop Party 07956 809 788.
My 21 year niece works in a shop in north Wales and she is paid the minimum wage. Despite working full time, she finds it practically impossible to pay her rent and bills. The cost of living in Wales is much lower than London. Now, if she finds it very difficult to live on her money how on earth can people survive in London on the the same minimum wage level as North Wales? For many years trade unions and community groups have been campaigning for a London Living wage.
Below is a extract from London Citizens on this issue:
The Living Wage is the level of pay and conditions that enables a full-time worker to make ends meet for themselves and their family.

Workers in London should be at least:
Paid a Living Wage (£7.05/hour).
Eligible for 10 days full sick pay.
Eligible for 28 days paid holiday (including Bank Holidays).
Given access to a recognised trade union.

London is an expensive city. The principle of London Weighting, that wages should reflect these higher costs, is long accepted. However, the statutory minimum wage is set nationally and does not take regional variations into account. Due to the high cost of living in the capital, the national minimum wage keeps families below the poverty line. It is currently estimated that 400,000 Londoners fall into this working poverty gap.

The London Living Wage currently stands at £7.05 per hour, well above the national minimum of £5.05 per hour. The background to this figure can be found in A Fairer London: The Living Wage in London (GLA 2006).

For more information about Living Wage figures in other UK areas, please contact Deborah Littman at UNISON (

Monday, February 19, 2007

Idea Store upgrading

The life of a trade union activist can be very frustrating at times. Today I was asked to see if there are any late photo stories I could submit to "Tower Power", our branch newsletter. Later on, while on a visit on my estate, I bumped into Terry and the mobile "Books on Wheels" team. I took this photo and submitted it to the editor. Recently, we (mostly down to Steve Murray - the local idea Store rep) had managed to get the Lead drivers of the bus an upgrade after an evaluation appeal. So a possible good news story!

Labour and Capital blog

Tom, who use to be the Senior pension policy officer at the TUC has set up a new blog site on
"Labour and Capital". Good stuff - give it a twirl!

See What's it all about? from Blog below

The aim of this blog is to generate interest and discussion with the labour movement about capital markets and other elements of the financial system. For too long most of the Left has taken a very simplistic and negative view of how the system works and few have tried to develop either theoretical understanding or practical proposals for reform.

In the UK and some other countries we have well-developed funded pension systems which mean that millions of working people are directly plugged into the capital markets. Already their retirement savings are typically invested in equities (company shares) and bonds, and increasingly a part wil also be invested in some of the more controversial asset classes such as hedge funds and private equity.

I think we have a duty to foster a greater understanding of financial markets within the labour movement. If we can teach ourselves to understand how the system operates we can identify both areas that require reform, and opportunities for influence. If we simply criticise in general terms from the outside we effectively cede control of billions of pounds of capital to others who may use it in a way that hurts working people around the globe.

Already there is a significant amount of activity around this agenda in North America. The workers' capital (or capital stewardship) movement in the US and Canadian trade unions is increasingly sophisticated. In the UK such ideas and activity have yet to really take hold. Therefore a primary objective of this blog is to contribute to the discussion and implementation of these ideas within the Labour Party and UK trade unions.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tower Hamlets Madness!

This is from our UNISON branch newsletter

Just gone through a week of fun and games at work. My grown up job is working in a Council housing estate office. Last July 2005 the estate voted (by a majority of 7 votes) to transfer to a housing association. However, a number of tenants have made complaints to the Government (who have to give permission for the transfer to go ahead) that the ballot was unfair and should be rerun. The transfer has been "in limbo" for over a year.

Then last Friday 9th Feb the government suddenly gave the go ahead for transfer to take place. At 4pm that day local management were sent an email saying the transfer would take place on the 19th Feb "at the earliest". Some new workers had been identified as being liable to tupe transfer without any discussion! There was no notification to the trade unions and no negotiations even though we have not had any talks with management or the housing association for over a year! On Thursday 15 Feb we had a office meeting with HR who informed us that we would transfer the following Monday (just over 1 working day's notice!). Nothing was given in writing. Some staff were on leave this week (half term) and where not even aware what was going on. As you would imagine this did not go down very well with staff. Some of which have worked for the Council for 35 years. Needless to say, none of our residents had been informed that there landlord would be changing either.

We suspect that the Council were trying to bounce the transfer before any legal challenge. On Friday 16 Feb at 4.45 pm (with 15 minutes to go) we received a message that an injunction by residents had been obtained to stop the transfer pending a judicial review!

I suppose that the idea is that for the Council to treat staff so badly that they will feel happy about transferring!

Watch this space!
Copy of press release from residents opposed to tranfer
Subject: Injunction stops Tower Hamlets Parkside transfer pending Judicial Review

Press Statement Immediate Release 16.2.07
Tenant campaigners on the Parkside group of estates in Tower Hamlets, East London tonight won an injunction in the Administrative Court, Royal Courts of Justice preventing Tower Hamlets Council completing the transfer of more than 2000 council homes to a subsidiary of CircleAnglia.
Carole Swords, a tenant from the estate and active member of the Tower Hamlets Against Transfer campaign went to court today after Housing Minister Yvette Cooper gave consent to the privatisation of her estate last week. Mr Justice Grigson agreed that there was a case to answer and granted the injunction.
The Council originally balloted tenants in July 2005 but the process and result have been hotly contested. Tenants immediately and consistently called for a full independent investigation of the ballot and alleged irregularities. They called on the Council and Housing Minister Yvette Cooper not to sign off the transfer on the basis of a majority of seven votes despite a catalogue of balloting irregularities. These included a polling station not being available, some tenants not receiving ballot papers and tenants for whom English is not their first language having difficulty using telephone voting because of lack of translation facilities.
Ballots on other estates in Tower Hamlets in a series of votes (partial stock transfers) have led to a large body of allegations of irregularities and abuses. The Council faces further challenges from tenants on other estates and a police investigation after tenants made sworn statements that people supporting transfer (privatisation) went round doors collecting blank ballot papers.
Normally the Secretary of State signs consent to transfers soon after the ballot result. The department’s regulations state that this should be within 12 months but in this case Housing Minister Yvette Cooper has put off making a decision because of strong opposition and the threat of Judicial Review. She decided to give consent last week prompting the request for an injunction made today.
Further information:
Carole Swords, claimant 07966 377 162
Eileen Short, Tower Hamlets Against Stock Transfer 07984 813 930
Alan Walter, Defend Council Housing 07802 176 639

Note to editors:
There is strong opposition to the government’s policy of privatising council housing across Britain. Tenants voted NO to transfer in more ballots in 2006 than ever before and there is growing national campaign supporting the ‘Fourth Option’ of direct investment to improve existing and build new council homes.
On Monday (Feb 19) the Labour Party National Policy Forum’s Sustainable Communities commission is due to discuss recommendations from its housing working group. Last September Labour’s conference voted for the third consecutive year running “calls on government to provide the ‘fourth option’ of direct investment to council housing as a matter of urgency” as an alternative to privatisation. The NEC told conference a working group would deliver its “conclusions early next year”.
On Tuesday (Feb 20) Professor John Hills is due to report on the conclusions of his inquiry into the Role of Social Housing, commissioned by Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly.
Defend Council Housing is holding a meeting at Parliament (6pm Tues 20, Portcullis House) to launch a new pamphlet ‘Dear Gordon: invest in decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing’.
To demonstrate that the original Tower Hamlets Parkside ballot result was flawed and most tenants don’t want the transfer to go ahead campaigners went door to door and collected signatures against the privatisation. More names were collected against the sell-off than Yes votes in the original council ballot.
The transfer would have gone ahead next Monday 19th following the Secretary of State's decision last week. Carol Swords issued proceedings for Judicial Review in the administrative court (at the Royal Courts of Justice) this afternoon and at 8.20pm Mr Justice Grigson gave us an order to prevent the transfer going ahead until the Judicial Review can be heard.

For pictures of the claimant outside the court contact 07799152888

Terms of order:
In the administrative court
Carole Swords Claimant
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Defendant

Old Ford Housing Association
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Interested Parties


An injunction preventing the London Borough of Tower Hamlets from proceeding with the transfer / disposal of Parkside Estates to Old Ford Housing Association until these proceedings are resolved or until further order.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pension Fund Makes Quick Response!

I bet that this is not a headline that you see that often! My fund responed within 24 hours to the message that I sent via Fair Pensions. Even though it was not the most informative of replies (see below)

Hi John,

Thank you for your email dated 13 February 2007.

This is a matter for the Investment Panel of which I believe you are a member. May I suggest you raise it at the next meeting.


Pensions Manager
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
2 Clove Crescent
London E14 2BE

Still, imagine if you could get others in your trade union branch or ward to contact their schemes?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lobby Your Pension Scheme to Stop Greedy Drug Dealer!

Fair Pensions has sent me an email about a campaign to stop drugs giant Novartis preventing India from producing life saving drugs at an affordable rate. It appears that Novartis (who you probably "own" bits of via your pension scheme, life assurance or saving plan) is taking the Indian government to court to try and stop them making cheap copies of prescription drugs. I thought this sort of thing was sorted a few years back when the big drug companies backed off taking South Africa to court, when they were trying to make cheap anti-viral medicine to combat HIV and AIDS. Public pressure did win that time. So click on link and send them details of your pension plan and they will tell you how to lobby them. Better still, see if you could get involved with your pension scheme and become a member trustee/representative (Local government scheme)!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

London UNISON Labour Link Elections 2007

Its that time of year again, when if you are involved in trade unions or the Labour Party, you have to spend most of your spare time trying to get yourself and your "slate" elected.

This is the "centre left" slate and statement for London UNISON Labour Link (use to be known as the "affiliated political fund"). Unlike many trade unions UNISON has two separate political funds. One for the Labour Party and the other for "general" political activities. Such as campaigning against privatisation. members can chose which fund (or none) they can pay into.

Election Statement

Louise, Teresa, Qaisra, Irene, Rachel, Bill, Alan, John Gouch, John Gray and Ian are current members of the Regional Labour Link Committee seeking re-election. We believe that UNISON’s Labour Link payers’ views are best represented by those who place UNISON members’ interests first – above those of extreme political parties and factions.

As active members of both UNISON and the Labour Party we are committed to improving communication between Labour Link members and those elected to represent them, making sure the voice of UNISON members is heard loud and clear.

Labour Link has established a solid record of success over the last 3 years and in the last year along Labour Link has:

  • Lobbied London Labour MP’s about pensions at every opportunity and won support for early day motions and UNISON’s campaigns
  • Set up health pilot project to work with MP’s
  • Gained regular access to Ken Livingston and Labour members of the London Assembly
  • Been part of a strong trade union presence in Labour’s campaign during the Borough elections.
  • Continued to build links and work with both Barking & Dagenham CLP’s in the fight against the far right
  • Continued to develop links with MP’s Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan and Lyn Brown.
We believe that UNISON Labour Link should meet the challenges of the Thames Gateway, the Olympics, housing, public transport, environment and Skills for Life agenda to deliver jobs and services and opportunities for our members.

If elected we will: ·

Use of influence in the Labour Party and work to promote UNISON’s aims and
We will continue to champion key trade union issues and ensure
that these
are at the top of the political agenda.
Build UNISON Labour
Link and mainstream our work in the region, branches
and the SOG’s so we can
effectively lobby at every level in our region for
UNISON policy.

1st. REGIONAL COMMITTEE: FEMALE SEAT (6 VOTES - Pink ballot paper)





Tuesday, February 06, 2007

TULO Newsletter February 2007 - Protect Agency Workers

Thought people may be interested in latest newsletter from TULO. The Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation. TULO is the body that brings the Labour Party together with the 16 Trade Unions who affiliate to the Labour Party.

Welcome to TULO's newsletter for February 2007 .
This month we are concentrating on an important issue - a Bill to protect agency and temporary workers.
In this edition, we have an article from Tony Dubbins asking for your help in gaining support for a Bill to provide equal protection for agency and temporary workers.
There is also information from the London Fabians, Unions21 & Compass on some events that they are running which you may wish to attend.
We hope you find this Newsletter informative and useful and we remind you that you can view other articles and documents on our website
The TULO Office
Time to act to protect temporary and agency workers
Our movement has an important opportunity to act to protect some of our most vulnerable workers. On March 2nd, Paul Farrelly MP will submit a Private Member's Bill to the House of Commons. The subject of this Bill will be protection for temporary and agency workers, which has long been an area where employment protection is weak.
For many, agency working means discrimination in the workplace and:
• poorer pay• denial of sick, holiday and overtime pay• an easy ride for unscrupulous employers.
A key part of the 2004 Warwick Agreement was the pledge by Labour to act to protect agency and temporary workers - either by supporting a European Directive on Agency & Temporary Workers or, if the EU could not reach agreement, to introduce protection within British law.
Since 2004, the discussions at a European level have proven to be difficult, and it is the view of the ETUC and a number of Labour MEPs that the chances of a Directive being agreed upon are highly unlikely.
The Private Member's Bill being brought by Paul Farrelly MP is a reflection of the latest draft of the Directive, and its becoming law would meet the commitment made in the Warwick negotiations. As a result, the National TULO Committee has decided to provide strong support for the Bill and to actively campaign in support of it.
The Bill is due to be presented to the House of Commons on the Friday 2nd March.
That date will be absolutely crucial for the progression of this Bill, as it will require the positive votes of at least 100 MPs if it is to move forward to the committee stage of the Parliamentary process. This could present some difficulties, as Friday is traditionally a day that MPs spend in their constituencies. If the Bill does not receive the 100 votes that it needs, then it will fall and we will have missed this important opportunity to both deliver on a key part of the Warwick agreement and provide protection for some of our most vulnerable workers.
TULO is asking for your support at this important time. We are asking you to do one simple thing:
Click here and take 2 minutes to send an email to Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Minister at the Department for Trade and Industry, asking him to offer the government's support to the Bill.
If you have a Labour MP, you might also want to think about making contact with them to ask them to be present in Westminster on March 2nd to vote for the Bill.
It is my belief that it is only through the wide support of Party and union activists across the country that we will be able to ensure the progress of the Bill. I hope that you will take just a few minutes to play your part in winning protection for Agency & Temporary Workers.
Tony DubbinsTrade Union Chair, National TULO Committee
For rest of newsletter click

Monday, February 05, 2007

UNISON Members win at Regional AGM!

This is the title that I perfer to be used to describe the recent UNISON London Region AGM rather than the report by another blogger who clearly has "lost it" (in more ways than one).

The Beginning - Why and How

It seems that there is a lack of blogs written by centre left trade unionists who are Labour Party supporters. So, from time to time, I will post stuff which I think like minded people might be interested in (or not as the case might be). Hopefully, comrades who do not share my views will enter into the spirit of things and make constructive and reasoned comments. But I doubt it....

Still, lets have an interesting debate...

I thought that I would start things off my copying the New Stateman article on Nick Cohen's new book "What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way". Its out today. I have just ordered the book from Amazon for £7.79. I will post a review when I have read it.

How the left went wrong
Nick Cohen
Published 05 February 2007

In early 2003, the largest co-ordinated protests in history took place against the Iraq war. This, argues Nick Cohen, was a failure of solidarity with the Iraqi people.

No one who looked at the liberal left from the outside could pretend that it provided anything other than token opposition to the "insurgents" from the Ba'ath Party and al-Qaeda. The British Liberal Democrats, the Continental social-democratic parties, the African National Congress and virtually every leftish newspaper and journal on the planet were unable to accept that the struggles of Arabs and Kurds had anything to do with them. Mainstream Muslim organisations were as indifferent to the murder of Muslims by Muslims in Iraq as they were to those in Darfur. For most world opinion, Tony Blair's hopes of "giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty" counted for nothing. The worst of the lot were the organisers of the UK anti-war demonstrations who turned out to be not so much against war, but on the wrong side.
Their leader, George Galloway, was a bombastic Scottish Labour MP who combined blood-curdling rhetoric with a whining sentimentality, like many a thug before him......

For the rest of this article click on New Statesman

"What's Left? How liberals lost their way" is published by Fourth Estate (£12.99).