Thursday, April 30, 2009

West Ham CLP Campaign Meeting: Euro-elections and 2010

I’m just back from probably the most positive and constructive campaign meeting I have ever attended. Times are admittedly just a little tough for many Labour Party activists at the moment.

So actually I think that one of the reasons this meeting went so well is that people wanted to get out and do things for the Party. Rather than just mope about at home feeling a bit fed up and shouting at Cameron whenever he appears on the TV news.

We managed to complete and detail the campaign plan for the Euro-election and plan beyond to the Local Council election and of course the probable general election in 2010. Potentially emotive issues such as who, where, why and how to target for voter ID were sorted out in an exemplary comradely manner!

Instead of meeting at the Party rooms in Stratford, the meeting was hosted by a senior Party member in her kitchen and there was an informal “brain storming” atmosphere rather than a traditional structured committee meeting. But we now have a detailed daily plan of activities which I think is achievable and sustainable. What’s more it was supported as so by the very activists who will turn out and get things done.

There will firstly be organising activities amongst our members and supporters then the usual mixture of door knocking, street stalls, tele-canvassing, mobilisation events and leaflet delivery.

Since London faces the threat from the BNP, anti-fascist campaigning will be a very important component of our work. There are also a number of other ideas we will try out, some won’t work - some will - but it’s worth the risk to try new things out.

Our plan is probably somewhat modest for a CLP with a strong local membership in a borough still politically dominated by Labour and no doubt many of our sister Labour CLP’s who face significant local opposition will have already sorted this out before now.

Still, we have made a good start and without being the slightest bit complacent I have to say (IMO) there is no real “crisis” in our part of the Labour movement world. The government is going through a rough patch at the moment and certainly some things do need to change. But the more we see the Tories in action the more we remember that the worse ever day in a Labour government is far better than the best ever day in a Tory government. Never forget this.

This is what I think drives us all on.

a best friend like Pooh...

Hat-tip thingy to SheWhoDrinksWater

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The “Worse” Big Pension Schemes in UK

FairPensions have published their latest survey (league table) on responsible investment for the top 30 British pension schemes. These schemes have nearly 5 million members and an estimated £351 billion of asserts.

The performance of the bottom 10 appears to be pretty awful. Check out the FairPensions website which “names and shames”.

As a UNISON pension activist I am particularly concerned that the Transport for London (TFL )scheme is apparently joint 19th out of 30 while the E.ON electricity scheme is 25th!

It is noticeable that the top schemes are usually signatories to the UNPRI while from 11th-30th they are all non-signatories.

This is all serious stuff since we need to make sure that all our pension schemes are run in a responsible and transparent manner.

Bank pension schemes (now mainly owned by the government) have also performed relatively badly. No great surprise there I suppose.

It is simply wrong that the bottom 5 schemes did not participate in the survey (see below). FairPensions is an established player in the governance field who should have been treated with respect. The question will be asked rightly or wrongly - what have these pension schemes got to hide (apart from poor governance)?

Coal Pension Trustees Pension Schemes
IBM Pension Scheme
Unilever UK Pension Fund
BAe Systems Pension Scheme
Lloyds TSB Group plc Group Pension Scheme

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Workers Memorial Day – “Remember the dead but fight for the living”.

Today Islington MP Emily Thornberry joined local Councillors and trade union members to mark Workers Memorial Day.

Emily helped plant a cherry tree in a new London housing development in tribute to those who have died at work or due to work related ill-health.

Immediately beforehand at noon Tuesday 28 April 2009 there was a minute’s silence. The event was jointly organised by Circle Anglia UNISON housing association members and Circle Anglia Group by its joint health and safety committee.

Workers Memorial Day is an internationally recognised event where those who have been killed in accidents at work or who have died of industrial diseases such as asbestos related cancer are remembered. It is also a campaigning day on promoting health & safety at work issues.

A purple “forget-me-not” is worn to remember those who have died.

The ceremony took place at the new Circle Anglia shared ownership development at the Blue Court, Sherbourne Street, Islington, N1 3FJ. One reason why the site was chosen was that the previous building had to be demolished due to large amount of asbestos in it.

John Gray UNISON convenor at Circle Anglia and Housing Association Branch safety officer said:

UNISON estimate that some 1,600 people are killed each year due to work related accidents and some 50,000 die every year from work related illnesses including cancer. Today we must all remember the dead but also campaign for the living. Employers and unions must work together to do all they can to protect people at work”.

Islington UNISON member Cathy Daniels said:

This day reminds people why health & safety is important. It is not about kill joys stopping “egg and spoon races” it is about real hazards affecting real people”.

Emily Thornberry MP said:

A large number of people die each year from work-related accidents or illnesses and so I am pleased to support the important work that UNISON members do to protect workers.”

Check out Prime Minister Gordon Brown statement on Workers Memorial Day (WMD) and the press release from DWP on consultation about this day being nationally recognised! Also the excellent UNISON website on WMD 2009 and the Health & Safety Executive website on WMD.

Picture (l-r)
John Gray UNISON convenor Circle Anglia Housing Association, Cllr Paul Smith, Robert Brown Circle Anglia Safety Manager, Emily Thornberry MP Islington South and Finsbury, “Growing Concern” Gardeners Pasquale Calabresey and Jim Kelly, Islington UNISON member Cathy Daniels and Cllr James Murray.

(hat-tip thingy based on UNISON Housing Association branch Press release)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bullying in the Workplace Petition and Workers Memorial Day tomorrow.

I’ve received this email from anti-bullying campaigner Vicky Gray (no known relation!). Bearing in mind that it is Workers Memorial Day tomorrow I thought I would post a link to her petition.

By co-incidence yesterday I was watching the London marathon from next to the Statute of the Building Worker opposite the Tower of London. Where people will be gathering tomorrow morning at 10.15am.

With the current recession employees need more protection in the workplace. I have started a new petition to Stop Bullying in The Workplace. It's called 09Bullying could you please sign it and pass it on to all members? When you complete the petition - it will email you a link which you have to click to actually have your name added to the list. Please do remember to check your spam folder if your email doesn't appear and make sure your name is on the list!

Stop Bullying in the workplace

40% of UK organisations still do not have an effective policy bullying. Introduce legislation that makes it compulsory that all workplaces have an effective policy on bullying. All organisations will submit a report on how many staff have submitted grievances or complained of bullying to the local newspapers who will report the bullying figures. Reports repeatedly reveal that between 10-50% of employees experience bullying which prevents them from fulfilling their duties the absence of legislation on bullying at work leaves both employees and employers unprotected.

Bullying is the cause of under performance, not the solution. Stress is now the number one cause of sickness absence; bullying is a major cause of stress. The cost of bullying to industry and taxpayers is estimated to at least £12 billion annually. The cost of conflict in the workplace could be in excess of £20-30 billion annually. This is equivalent to a hidden tax burden of over £1000 per working adult per year. Protect the worker change the law.
Vicky Gray

Malcolm Campbell

I was sorry to hear at today’s UNISON Regional Finance Team meeting about the death yesterday of Croydon Local Government Branch secretary, Malcolm Campbell.

I did not agree politically with Malcolm who was a strong supporter of UNISON United Left. He was obviously a committed activist in UNISON and the Labour Party. I had always found him to be polite and reasonable.

My sympathies are with his family.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

London Marathon 2009 – A Sea of Champions

Congratulations to everyone who took part in today’s London Marathon. I went to not only offer my support to Cousin Di and other friends and work colleagues but to everyone who took part.

Whatever time you completed it in (or not) does not matter as much as having the sheer guts and determination to give it a go.

It is much more of a popular London street festival than a race. We can admire the speed and grace of the professional athletes taking part but the real champions are the 35,000 amateur competitors and their hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters.

Di finished the race in 5 hours 12 minutes (by her watch) and was pleased as punch to have completed her first Marathon. Well done Di and everyone else for entering.

I am not sure why but I have never been really “into” individual competitive or team organised sports. My “little, big” sister is a professional gymnastic coach and simply loves all sport. When we were both small during Saturday’s “Grandstand” we used to fight for control of the TV. She of course would win every time and I would be forced to endure the horrors of Wimbledon, Olympics, Commonwealth games, European games etc. There is nothing much wrong with such events but they are just not my cup of tea.

I have always found it fascinating that when as a bloke you meet another “bloke” in an environment where you are expected to make pleasant “chit chat”, the bloke would talk about football in the full expectation that I would know what on earth he was going on about. Usually if you just nod and grin occasionally you can get away with it. He’s not really that interested in your view in any case.

But I have always enjoyed participating or actively supporting individual and team endurance events. Testing yourself either individually or in a team is a real challenge. This is why I think the London Marathon is so popular with participants and spectators. We live in a City where by and large citizens would be horrified if someone you did not know said “Good Morning” to you on its mean streets. Yet, today Londoners were openly shouting by name encouragement and support to complete strangers in order to help them to complete.

As an aside, I wonder how many female runners first name was Flora?

It is an uplifting day to those who do and those who enthuse. There must be lessons here somewhere comrades?

(Yes it is Pete and Katie Price who gave a cheery wave and smile - bottom left of photo)

Grand Tolpuddle Demonstration – 175th Anniversary

I couldn’t make it yesterday to the March and Rally. Check out a great post about the history and the event here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Questions to be asked of United Left

Guest multi-media post from Comrade Mercader who has come up with another video asking some questions of the UL (Ultra Left) faction who are standing in the UNISON NEC elections.

Report to UNISON National Health & Safety Committee

Below is a copy of the report I submitted to last week’s National Committee. Each UNISON region and service groups should submit a quarterly report on health & safety. I’ll post on the actual national meeting another time.

UNISON London Regional Health & Safety Committee report.

Committee Elections
The last meeting was on 31 March 2009 which was our AGM. Officers and representatives were elected. I was elected as the London representative again for the UNISON National Health & Safety Committee.

Committee members reported on training and conferences attended. It was agreed to fund one member of the committee to attend the Hazards Conference from our budget and encourage all branches to also send delegates.

Work Programme
The committee has as part of its work programme investigated the purchase of suitable yellow high visibility jackets and clip boards with UNISON safety logos on them. This is to encourage and facilitate workplace safety inspections. Branches will be asked to buy jackets and clip boards for all active and trained representatives. We will also encourage the use of the UNISON model safety inspection check list as a template. If any other regions want details of costing etc then please contact the secretary to the Committee, Stuart Barber at London regional office.

On going discussion on how to further the European Health & Safety campaign focus on Risk Assessments. There was a discussion on possibly future lobbying of London Councils and NHS Trusts on this issue. Also, possible meeting with London HSE on joint working on this important issue.

Workers Memorial Day.
There will be the central London rally outside the Tower Of London on the 28th April and a special evening event at Congress House organised by SERTUC. There is a number of UNISON events planned across London (see UNISON website).

London Health & Safety Network
After the main committee meeting ended there was a network meeting where branch Health and Safety officers from the region were invited to join the committee. A speaker from trade union solicitors Thompsons (Andrew Hutson) gave a very informative legal update on risk assessments and Stress at work. There appears to have been some improvements in law. If anyone wants a copy of his handout please contact me.

After that committee members and branch officers discussed local safety issues and “best practices”.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I don’t usually pay all that much attention to email chain letters. You can normally goggle them to find out if they are urban myths. They can sometimes be quite unpleasant.

This week I received this particular chain email (below) from my sister-in-law in Suffolk and from a former female work colleague in Kent.

I suspect many people have also received this message recently. Both kept referring to the “English” which is grating given the disproportionate numbers of Welsh, Scots and Irish troops currently out in harm’s way while in the service of our country, but there you go. Non-English Brits are pretty used to this.

While it is easy to dismiss and mock such messages I think that even those who oppose the British involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq should respect and try to understand these sentiments behind it.

But it would appear that this chain letter was actually started by Canadian families and has now spread to America and the other NATO countries.

On any investigation it is pretty obvious that these emails have been, let us say, “Adapted”. This is dishonest since it is quite clear that this scene never happened in a “West London airport” in the way in which it pretends to have done so.

I also feel somewhat uncomfortable as a “red blooded Briton” (aren't we all?) with such apparent nationalistic flag waving sentiment. After all, that sort of thing is not really British – is it?

What about the bravery of our NATO and Commonwealth allies and their dead and injured soldiers? What about the Afghan and Iraqi government troops and police who have suffered huge losses. Never mind the numerous innocent civilities caught up in “collateral damage”. Don’t they deserve a mention at least?

Despite this anyone frankly IMO who reads this passage and does not have a tear in their eye at the end has a heart of stone. We also do not want to leave such important messages hostage to our home grown Nazi's such as the BNP - who have heads of stone as well as hearts and will abuse such imperfect collective solidarity for their own essentially unpatriotic ends.

Also it is important that those who we send out to fight and suffer on our nation’s behalf receive our active, vocal and visual support for our bidding. Let us not forget that this should be in deeds as well as words or symbols.

Despite my reservations this is I think going to be a part of our future national folklore.

Last week I was in West London attending a conference. While I was in the airport, returning home, I heard several people behind me beginning to clap and cheer. I immediately turned around and witnessed one of the greatest acts of patriotism I have ever seen. Moving through the terminal was a group of soldiers in their uniforms, as they began heading to their gate everyone (well almost everyone) was abruptly to their feet with their hands waving and cheering.

When I saw the soldiers, probably 30-40 of them, being applauded and cheered for, it hit me. I'm not alone. I'm not the only red blooded Briton who still loves this country and supports our troops and their families. Of course I immediately stopped and began clapping for these young unsung heroes who are putting their lives on the line everyday for us, so we can go to school, work, and enjoy our home without fear or reprisal.

Just when I thought I could not be more proud of my country or of our service men and women a young girl, not more than 6 or 7 years old, ran up to one of the male soldiers. He knelt down and said 'hi,' the little girl then asked him if he would give something to her daddy for her. The young soldier didn't look any older than maybe 22 himself, said he would try and what did she want to give to her daddy. Suddenly the little girl grabbed the neck of this soldier, gave him the biggest hug she could muster and then kissed him on the cheek.
The mother of the little girl, who said her daughter’s name was Courtney, told the young soldier that her husband was a Corporal and had been in Afghanistan for 5 months now. As the mum was explaining how much her daughter, Courtney, missed her father, the young soldier began to tear up.

When this temporarily single mum was done explaining her situation, all of the soldiers huddled together for a brief second. Then one of the other servicemen pulled out a military looking walkie-talkie. They started playing with the device and talking back and forth on it. After about 10-15 seconds of this, the young soldier walked back over to Courtney, bent down and said this to her, 'I spoke to your daddy and he told me to give this to you.' He then hugged this little girl that he had just met and gave her a Kiss on the cheek.

He finished by saying 'Your daddy told me to tell you that he loves you more than anything and he is coming home very soon.' The mum at this point was crying almost uncontrollably and as the young soldier stood to his feet he saluted Courtney and her mum.

I was standing no more than 6 feet away as this entire event unfolded. As the soldiers began to leave, heading towards their gate, people resumed their applause. As I stood there applauding and looked around, there were very few dry eyes, including my own.

That young soldier in one last act of moment turned around and blew a kiss to Courtney with a tear rolling down his cheek. We need to remember everyday all of our soldiers and their families and thank God for them and their sacrifices.

At the end of the day, it's good to be an Englishman.

RED FRIDAYS Very soon, you will see a great many people wearing Red every Friday. The reason? British men and women who support our troops used to be called the 'silent majority'. We are no longer silent, and are voicing our love for Country and home in record breaking numbers. We are not organized, boisterous or over-bearing.

We get no liberal media coverage on TV, to reflect our message or our opinions. Many British people, like you, me and all our friends, simply want to recognize that the vast majority of Britain supports our troops.

Our idea of showing solidarity and support for our troops with dignity and respect starts this Friday and continues each and every Friday until the troops all come home, sending a deafening message that every Briton who supports our men and women afar will wear something red.

By word of mouth, press, TV -- let's make Great Britain on every Friday a sea of red much like a homecoming football team If every one of us who loves this country will share this with acquaintances, co-workers, friends, and family, It will not be long before Britain is covered in RED and it will let our troops know the once 'silent' majority is on their side more than ever, certainly more than the media lets on.

The first thing a soldier says when asked 'What can we do to make things better for you?' is...'We need your support and your prayers'... Let's get the word out and lead with class and dignity, by example; and wear something red every Friday.


Lest we Forget.

Please don't forget our boys & girls

Please forward.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bambos Charalambous and Stephen Twigg Campaign Fundraiser

A little late post on a very good fund raising dinner held on Tuesday evening for Bambos and Stephen’s Parliamentary campaigns.

The special guest was the Foreign Secretary, RH David Miliband MP.

I was there with UNISON Labour Link colleagues (including Rae Voller, the deputy Chair of UNISON Labour Link - see picture top right).

The event was packed with supporters many of whom had actually come down from Liverpool for the dinner.

It was held at the Ev Restaurant in Southwark, SE1. Bambos and Stephen were very hospitable and welcoming hosts to all their guests.

Some thoughts I scribbled down during the speeches.

David Miliband gave a very competent speech clearly pointing out that unless we win in seats such as Enfield Southgate and Liverpool West Derby we will not win the next general election.

He rightly praised Bambos and said he expected him at the next election to be the first ever Greek Cypriot MP.

At the same time he urged a bilateral solution to the problems in Cyprus so that both peoples there could live in peace in Cyprus as they do together in London. I was very surprised that there had not been a MP of Cyprus origin before now (Nick V - discuss!).

To great applause from the audience Miliband argued that the EU had encouraged Turkey to enshrine equal citizenship for all in its constitution and that was down in part to lobbying by the EU and the prospect of membership.

David was very direct and I think persuasive about not only the importance of the Labour Party winning power during the next election but also that it is still very winnable.

He reminded everyone how the Party had been written off during the early 90’s as being never able to win power. Also that there had been a failure of markets not the government that had caused the current economic mess.

New Labour is not a “faction” but a set of values, principles and a political culture. If there are good ideas regardless that they are from the Left or the Right they will size them. What matters is the good of the people. Politics is important since the NHS is important to most people, the minimum wage is important, and the vast increase in the number of teachers and teacher assistants are important.

Politics does make a difference.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Progressive Budget?

I’ve missed much of the analysis of todays budget due to my CLP AGM. (I was elected unopposed for a number positions including TULO officer and the Agent).

Joy of Joys! I am also a CLP delegate to this year’s Labour Party conference!

But have a look at the TUC’s Adam Lent post about the budget on ToUCHstones which is fairly positive.

I have been a bit "Labour movement busy" during the last 24 hours and will hopefully post on this sometime soon.

Jack Jones has died

Just got message from Col. Roi that Jack Jones (see photo with black beret), Trade Union leader, Labour Party supporter and International brigade fighter against fascism has died age 96 last night (Tuesday).

A great man and a great life.

This is a true end of an era.

I’ll post something in more detail later this week.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A bloggers life

Hat tip thingy Harry’s Place – from the

This cartoon is of course a work of artistic fiction and bears no intentional resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead. Any such apparent similarities are purely co-incidental.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!

Quick plug for a new production at the Riverside Arts Centre in Sunbury Upon Thames this week. This was a very poplar play by Dario Fo during the anti-poll tax campaign. It’s a little far for me to venture but there is a respected UNISON health steward who is a leading light in the production.

This is a fast moving, political farce set in Milan. Housewives, who in dealing with high inflation prices find themselves unable to make ends meet, cause an uproar when deciding in a local supermarket that the prices are to high, they refuse to pay and with a un-premeditated decision, loot all they can. The play follows two of these housewives as they try to keep what they’ve done secret from their husbands, stirring up all sorts of hysterical spin to guard the truth. The fantastic role of sergeant playing a further three parts disguised only by changing of props, jumps in and out of the scenes desperate to catch them with the loot is hysterical.However in typical Fo style he manages to give even the wildest gag, a serious political undertone”.

Come and see great political farce play at the Riverside Arts Centre, 59 Thames Street, Sunbury on Thames. This Thu, Fri, and Sat 8pm. Come support this fantastic play. Will be worth it! Box office 01932564891 tickets £8 x can pick up and pay for tickets at door x hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Outrageous sexism by United Left choice of NEC Candidates

Many thanks for the latest entertaining and upbeat video analysis offering by Comrade Mercader on the ongoing UNISON NEC elections. The Ultra Left (UL) dominated sect “United Left” are trying (surprise, surprise) to get elected their own central committee vanguard of “angry young men” (who are mostly in reality white middle aged blokes). While ignoring the fact that over 70% of UNISON members are actually women. So much for fairness or proportionality then?

Headphones/speakers and dancing shoes ON

I’ve just completed my ballot papers for my region (London) and my Service Group (Local Government).
I’ve voted (X) for –

FEMALE SEAT Vote for up to TWO candidates

MALE SEAT Vote for ONE candidate only

GENERAL SEAT Vote for ONE candidate only

MALE SEAT Vote for ONE candidate only

FEMALE SEAT Vote for up to TWO candidates

Check out this website Members in UNISON for other recommendations. (Please forward this but do not use UNISON resources to do so)

The Art and Mystery of the early Welsh Cowboys - “Heiptro Ho!”

Mostly off message - just back from a glorious holiday in Wales. Hired a cottage near Barmouth and spent last week hill walking and site seeing alternating with reading, listening to music and generally slobbing out. I don’t really know this part of Wales very well although as kids we used to go camping every summer in nearby Shell Island.

In February I posted here on my astonishment at finding an old Welsh drovers pub deep in the heart of southern England. For centuries Welsh drovers would take large herds of Welsh black cattle across the mountains into English livestock markets. The herds could be as long as half a mile in length and the journey 250 miles each way. Unlike their more glamorous American cowboy cousins the drovers usually walked rather than rode horses.

They were also unofficial bankers and postmen. It was pretty dangerous since they were known to have large amounts of money on them so they were liable to be attacked by robbers. To be a drover you had to apply for a licence, aged at least 30 and married. Also according to this excellent site when they applied for a licence they referred to their trade as being about “Art and Mystery”.

Last week I tried to pick walks that made reference to drovers. The centre photo is of an old pack horse bridge used by drovers in the Afon Ysgethin Valley. This is in the middle of nowhere and it was incredible to think that this bridge was also used according to the guide book by mail coaches travelling between London and Harlech. It was also knackering enough just to walk up the 8 miles to the bridge from the coast and back - never mind cross the numerous mountain ranges and hills beyond into Shropshire.

If staying at Barmouth I recommend the Bistro Bermo for great value and delicious local grub - of course I had to have the Welsh Black Chargrilled Glasfryn Estate rump steak.

(The drovers would call out “Heiptro Ho” warning local farmers “Get your animals in, we are coming through’)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Levellers Day – May 16th

A fascinating bit of British history. There were more casualties per head of population in the Civil War (1642-1651) than during the First World War (1914-1918).

Was the regicide Cromwell (his 410th birthday is on April 29th) a tyrant or a hero? Were the Levellers/diggers - religious fanatics and/or early socialists or just aggressive soldiers grousing about the late payment of wages?

Levellers’ Day takes place at the actual site of the execution of three of the “mutineers” which was ordered by “Old Noll” himself in Burford Church graveyard.

Read the various links or make a visit on the day and make your own mind up.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More than a whiff of Tory cant and hypocrisy?

Okay – to be clear what Damian McBride did was plain wrong as well as stupid. He fell on his “sword” (or scribe, pen, QWERTY board – whatever media advisers fall upon) pretty swiftly and resigned. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown sent out handwritten letters of deep regret and has now “finally” according to last nights 6pm BBC News “apologised”. Cue to picture of Osborne saying “it’s a bit late”.

Now all week we have been subjected to various Tories pontificating at length about this and that. I thought that this was all just a little rich. I am not a Westminster village insider, but anyone who doesn’t think that senior Tory officials have not had similar emails exchanges or meetings about slurring Labour Politician’s as those between McBride and Draper are living in cloud cuckoo land. I would have thought that maybe some recognition that “there but the grace of God” humility by the Tories would have been appropriate if they really want to “clean up” the body politics.

By co-incidence I’ve been away recently and it was only last night that I caught up with and read last weeks Sunday papers. This extract from Paddy Ashdown’s autobiography in the Sunday Times review I think is apt. “...we discovered after the election that that some Tories had imported a group of US activists called “the Nerds” whose job was to spread malign rumours and make unfounded personal accusations against senior opposition MPs...after the election Kelvin MacKenzie then editor of The Sun, revealed that at least one cabinet-level Tory minister had approached him seeking to retail scurrilous and untrue allegations against a number of senior opposition MPs.”

Nuff said?

UPDATE: No there is more -Leftygirl tells it as it is here

UPDATE 2: The plot thickens - check out today's Sunday Mirror

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Message about United Left from Comrade Mercader!

This is an internal UNISON thingy. Another great video from Comrade Mercader. Ballot papers are being sent out this week to all members for the UNISON NEC elections. If you are a UNISON member then please vote for anyone but the so-called “United Left” slate. UL is dominated by the extremist “Ultra Left” Socialist Workers Party et al. There is no place for such people in the leadership of modern day democratic and progressive trade unions.

Check out this excellent web site Members in UNISON which has details about some of the Sensible Left candidates.

In London region we have Kim Silver, Louise Couling, Conroy Lawrence and Eric Roberts standing for NEC positions.

Earphones or speaker’s on!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The eBay Race to the Bottom in “Homecare scandal”

Panorama seems to be back on form. Last night I caught most of an excellent undercover investigation into the “services” provided by some private homecare companies. These companies had won contracts from local authorities to provide care packages to vulnerable residents at home.

Residents are often elderly, have learning difficulties or are even terminally ill. The overriding theme of the programme was that these privately owned companies win home care contracts by submitting bids which undercut decent organisations. They then make their money by simply not giving the care they had contracted to provide. Instead of providing 30 minutes blocks of care and support they overload their staff with so many cases that they cannot physically all their clients. So visits are curtailed to 10 minutes or less or just don’t take place. Needless to say that the staff they employ are only paid just above national minimum wage, with only statutory minimum holidays, sick leave and no pensions.

Undercover reporters worked for companies in England and Scotland and confirmed that they were sent out to cover work loads which the companies knew were impossible for them to complete. The company of course claimed the full amount for the time they were suppose to have provided. As pointed out in the programme surely this is common criminal fraud? Secret cameras placed in the homes of some clients confirmed that this practice was widespread. Not only were vulnerable clients not receiving the care that they or the local authority had paid for but vital care plans were not kept up to date. This meant an obvious significant risk to clients who may have received the wrong medication because of it.

I will declare an interest, my Mum lives in an over 50’s sheltered housing block run by a housing association. She has in the last few weeks started to receive home help services provided via the local authority. My “little” sister works for another local authority as an assistant social worker and most of her work involves assessing elderly clients for home care.

The most shocking fact that came out last night was that at least two local authorities had held “on-line” live auctions between organisations bidding for care contracts. In the reverse of EBay - organisations bided against each other to provide the lowest price. This is the race to the bottom. Companies are free to bid whatever is needed to win the contract. Decent companies know that they cannot provide quality services at that price so they don’t take part and lose contracts. This is part of a downward spiral with everyone the losers – clients, workers, local authorities and ultimately the taxpayer who largely funds all of this. The only winners are the greedy exploiters who make their money out of other peoples misery.

By co-incidence in a union meeting recently we were trying to benchmark housing and care organisation in terms of how they treated their staff. The private owned care organisations came bottom (and I think the worse example was actually mentioned on the programme). Once again I think that this demonstrates that the interests of workers and clients are interwoven. Organisations that treat their staff well will also tend to provide quality services to clients.

There are other worries in social care such as cuts in the Supporting People budgets and the removal of ring-fencing for this budget. What is needed is regulators with bite; the existing ones seem to be ineffectual. Proactive local authority commissioning agents who will effectively vet organisation before any tender process and will actively monitor contracts. Quality of services not price should be key benchmark. Legislative change is also desperately needed to ensure the end of 2-tier workforces in all social care contracts. If all companies had to honour not only existing staff contracts but ensure that new starters had to be paid the same terms and conditions then it should stop the cowboys undercutting.

The interviewer repeatedly asked the Scottish home care regulator if she would want her grandmother to be provided services by these companies. She refused to answer.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

UNISON national seminar on Representation and Governance in LGPS

I am still playing catch-up with posts. This is on the seminar I attended last month on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). UNISON is leading a campaign to improve the governance of the LGPS. This is important to our members since a badly run scheme would result in its demise while it is also important for the wider economy. It the biggest pension fund in the UK with asserts worth £125 billion (2008). These asserts need to be managed effectively and safely. We have all seen recently what happens when there is there is poor governance and regulation of capital.

I see that the former head of the CBI, Sir John Banham, has written a report (RSA – Tomorrow Investor) “called for pension funds to take greater responsibility for how and where their money is invested, with trustees acting as ‘owners of companies’ rather than as ‘speculators in shares’…investors must ‘bridge the ownership gap’ and insist that fund managers only invest in companies where they are fully satisfied about the long-term potential for business.

All other funded pension schemes in the UK have statutory obligations to have member nominated trustee representatives involved in the governance of their pensions. This was to stop Rogue Company bosses like Maxwell stealing from pension funds and because it as felt that the best people to scrutinise the running of a pension scheme would be the representatives of the savers. This view was endorsed in a number of government reviews (Myners Report for one).

The LGPS has no such statutory obligation. While there is a Government “best practice” guide, which encourages member representation. There are no real sanctions against employers who wish to continue to run their schemes in secret and without being held to account what they do with other people’s money.

It was a well attended event with existing “member nominated representatives” (MNRs) and people interested in becoming MNRs from all over the UK. Keith Sonnet, the UNISON Deputy General Secretary was the keynote speaker. National Officer, Colin Meech gave an update on negotiations with the CLG. The CLG have now conceded that they need to change the scheme to comply with EU and British law. There was a legal briefing by Ivan Walker from Thompson’s solicitors followed by two different workshops in the afternoon. Finally, UNSION Pensions officer Glyn Jenkins gave an update on the negotiations with the CLG over LGPS benefits (as opposed to governance). The campaign continues.

(I will add photos of event another time)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

On-line training on Employment Law

At the recent meeting of the UNISON London health & safety committee (which I plan to post upon soon) there was a solicitor from the trade union solicitors Thompsons. He was there to give us an update on recent employment law cases. He also handed out cards advertising their “Free E-Training Facility”.

I’ve had a look at it and there is a range of modules which I think will be of interest to any stewards or safety reps. No substitute for “proper” trade union education courses - but still very useful.

(double click photo to see screenprint clearly)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Diane Kennedy – running the London Marathon on behalf of the Shaw Trust

Off message-ish. There are a number of good people who are running in this year’s London Marathon on behalf of excellent charities but on the “principle” that blood is thicker than water I would just like to mention that my first cousin Di will be taking part while supporting the Shaw Trust.

Di had just completed her first ever 20k run in the picture (right).

The Shaw Trust is a national Charity which supports disabled and disadvantaged people to prepare for work, find jobs and live more independently.

Cousin Di has been training really hard for the marathon despite holding down a demanding job while being a super Mum to 4 year James and 20 month toddler twins Emily and Matthew. I put this determination down of course to our shared granite coast Aberdeen genes!

You can sponsor Di and this excellent cause at

I think that the wider Gray family “record” of 4 hours 24 minutes following my appearance in the 2002 London Marathon is finally (and deservedly) under threat!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Back of a fag packet guide to ill-health retirement under the LGPS

While I am very interested in governance issues regarding the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS - Britain’s largest pension scheme with some 3.5 million active, retired or deferred members) today I have been trying to puzzle out the new regulations regarding ill health retirement.

I am helping out a UNISON steward who is representing a member who is very seriously ill and we are trying to see if the member is eligible for ill health retirement.

The regulations were radically changed last year and I think many trade union activists (and employers!) are still trying to work out what the changes mean in practice.

Firstly a health warning indeed for my blog trollers, while I am pretty relaxed at abuse directed against myself and I don’t like deleting comments as a matter of principle – I will delete without hesitation stupid stuff about this serious topic. In the past there well may have been abuse of all ill-health retirement schemes to get rid of people the organisation wanted to make redundant quietly. This is long dead and the members who I have represented and tried to get medical retirement for have without exception have been very, very ill. While I am in rant mode I will also say that there is nothing unaffordable or “gold plated” with the LGPS so why don’t all employers offer decent pension schemes to their employees?

Secondly this is my own personal interpretation of these regulations and I am hoping that wiser heads will point out where I have gone wrong. Do not take this interpretation as gospel and check it out with your own full time officials before you do anything.

This is after all a “back of a fag packet guide to ill-heath” under the LGPS.

There are now 3 different levels of ill health retirements in the LGPS. 1st, 2nd and 3rd Tier

The 1st Tier will pay anyone eligible for their pension at the same rate as if he retired at 65! (If he is 49 now he will get 16 years extra enhancement).

To get any ill health pensions everyone first has to pass these 2 tests

Test 1
Their employment with the local authority is terminated due to their mental and/or physical ill-health and they are permanently incapable of carrying out their present job in the local authority.

Test 2
They have a reduced likelihood of obtaining “gainful employment” (whether in local government or otherwise) before he is 65.

Test 3
To get 1st tier medical retirement you have show that there is no reasonable prospect of them obtaining gainful employment before 65.

All these decisions are on a “balance of probabilities” basis – e.g. “more likely than not” NOT beyond reasonable doubt etc. So the Doctor does not have to say that the member will never work again.

Gainful employment” is defined as 30 hours or more per week.

Tier 2
Again you have to pass test 1 and 2 but it's different test 3 is that the member is judged to be incapable of obtaining gainful employment within three years of leaving local government employment, but is thought likely to be able to do so before reaching 65

If you pass this test then your existing pensionable service is enhanced by 25%. I’m not sure how that pans out in practice but I assume that if you have 25 years service then you will get 6 or 7 years extra?

Tier 3
Firstly of course you have to pass test 1 and test 2. Tier 3 test 3 - Is the member likely to recover sufficiently from his incapacity to enable him to be capable of obtaining gainful employment within three years of leaving local government employment?

If so you are only awarded your pension for up to 3 years. This is the only test to be reviewed (after 18 months) as well and will be stopped if you find “gainful employment” beforehand.

If you were a member of the LGPS and age 45 or over on April 1 2008 then you have a “protection” (only for 6 months service past 1.4.08 now finished unless you retired during that period). If you are awarded retirement after this then you should get whatever gives you the best payment - either under this new system or the old 1997 regulations.

Back of the fag packet calculations

25 years service at £20,000 age 48. To keep things simple I’m ignoring the new 1/60th rate in place for 2008 onwards

Tier 3 - No enhancements 25 x1/80th of £20,000 = £6,250 per year and £18,750 lump sum

Tier 2 – 25% enhancement (6 years) 31x1/80th of £20,000 = £7,750 per year and £23,250 lump sum.

Tier 1 – 100% enhancement 40x1/80th = £10,000 per year and £30,000 lump sum.

Final message - Please, please join a union for crying out loud to get proper advice on your pension scheme.

Check out the LGPS website, the 2007 regulations and the Workplace Pay and Pensions (CLG)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

London’s green, pleasant (and mostly empty) hinterland

Off message but tonight I’m recovering from a lovely tramp in the Chilterns. Some people drone on how awful living in London is - so to escape they spend hours and hours every weekend driving to the Cotswolds, Clacton or Coniston.

They forget how much fantastic countryside is within an hour (or less) of Charing Cross. Check out the superb Pathfinder Guides published by Jarrold and Ordinance Survey.

Today we started off at Berkhamstead for a 7 mile tramp along the Grand Union Canal, Northchurch common, the National Trust Ashbridge Estate and finally finishing at the impressive Norman Berkhamstead Castle.

I was map reading so naturally we got completely lost for a while. Apologies to local landlords for the trespassing that took place but it was in good faith... and of course in any case all property is theft (joke).

My one serious point for what it is worth is that while trekking today thorough gorgeous parts of the British countryside on our London doorstep we saw relatively very few other walkers.

While no doubt hundreds of miles away, thousands of Londoners will be walking up Snowdon, Scafell or Ben Nevis while complaining bitterly about the crowds.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

G20 Summit – Job Done

I’m going to be a little bit naf and say that 48 hours is now a long time in modern day politics.

On Wednesday morning this week before work I was out delivering agenda's for our local Labour Party ward meeting on Thursday. While I was doing so I was listening on headphones to the Radio 4 “Today” programme.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was being pretty comprehensively rubbished - especially during the round-up of the morning papers headlines and the G20 was also seen as going to be a bit of a disaster. The dastardly “Anglo-Saxons” - the United States and Britain, were going to be humiliated by the new big shots, Russia and China. While the ever perfidious French were going to walk out and their Germany allies’ reborn fear of hyper-inflation would result in a resounding “Nein” to any expansion budget. Wide spread rioting during the G20 was also predicted with relish by the tabloid press.

I travelled through central London on Wednesday and Thursday to meetings and saw neither signs of swampy nor the self proclaimed “Whitechapel Anarchists” - even in my beloved East End of London. The radio interviews of these posh sounding middle class kids pretending to be fighting on behalf of the working class was an absolute treat.

On Friday morning partially in order to pay penitence for a visit to the “Fox and Hounds” after the previous nights Ward meeting, I went for a jog (very, very slow) around the lovely Wanstead flats and listening to the radio I found out that Gordon is now once again the hero of the hour and the “broker of massive financial aid for global aid deal”.

Unionstogether the campaign organisation of the 15 trade unions who are affiliated to the Labour Party have organised a petition to congratulate Gordon on the success of the G20 - while reminding him to put jobs first in the domestic recovery programme.

There have been some moaning Minnies (red-baiters and witch hunters) who don’t actually want Gordon to succeed since they prefer oppositional politics and enjoy the luxury of being ideologically pure.

Personally, I am really pleased that the Tories were writing off Gordon’s chances of having a successful G20 conference - yet he pulled it off. There are a number of things you can criticise the Government about but when they are successful and do the right thing they should be congratulated. This agreement will mean more jobs will be saved and created in the UK.

Real Trade unionists know that there is no choice whatsoever when it is between either a future Labour Government “warts and all” or “do nothing Eton Tories”.

UNISON at the G20

This video is from UNISONTV on YouTube. When not carrying the new London regional banner I was mostly walking under the UNISON balloons with Gloria Hanson (see picture with Dave Prentis) our Regional Convenor.

Contrary to scurrilous rumours I did not fill up personally the said UNISON balloons with hot air!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

SERTUC WMD Event - 28 April Congress Hse

SERTUC stands for Southern and Eastern Region Trade Union Congress.

“WMD” does not mean “Weapons of Mass Destruction” rather it is about Workers Memorial Day - Tuesday 28 April

Main speaker is former UNISON General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe and Miners "strike baby" and artist Rachel Horne

Please support this very worthy event on Workers Memorial Day - 28 April 2009.

Make sure you try and organise a local memorial event at your work place on that day.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

V for Victory in UNISON London Labour Link Elections

Last night I received notification of the results. I was elected to the UNISON Labour Link (APF) National Forum.

Congratulations to the rest of the centre left slate in the UNISON London region Labour Link elections to the National forum and Labour Party conference.

Commiserations to the unsuccessful candidates (apart of course from the entryists)

It’s another convincing victory of the forces of light and reason following on from the recent UNISON London Regional Council election AGM.

I think the appalling behaviour of the Ultra left at this meeting helped us with our success. The aggressive and abusive behaviour by a minority of the so-called “United left” at that meeting has I think weakened them yet again. I have spoken to many who had attended the Council meeting who were just horrified at the behaviour of the extremists.

Supporters of United left who do not support such aggressive and nasty toy town revolutionaries need to ask themselves what on earth they are doing being associated with this lot?

Last year’s successful result was announced on celtic saint St Piran’s Day and the year before was on St David’s Day. Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the Harold Wilson 1966 Labour election victory. Will that do? A good sign for 2010?

Congratulations to Margaret Back, Lynn Bentley, Goria Hanson, Monica Powell and Kim Silver. Myself, John Gough and Ian Horrigan. Last but not least - Louise Couling.

A true band of Brothers and Sisters.

Many thanks to all those who supported us.

Happy 10th Birthday - National Minimum Wage

Check out this website which is supported by UNISON, the TUC and NGO’s. On the 1st April the National Minimum Wage will be 10 years old.

You can lobby the Low Pay unit and your local MP about this year's increase.

Well done the Labour Party and Government for this is one of your finest achievements.

Putting pounds into the purses and pockets of millions of ordinary low paid working people.

This is really what we should all be about.

Now turn this into a national living wage?