Tuesday, June 30, 2009

“Rule or Ruin” – The SWP gift to Politics and Unions

Now people may have gathered by now that I’m not that much of a fan of the ultra left Cult SPEW (aka as the “Socialist Party of England and Wales”). But I think that this missive here on the “Evil Ones” (aka the “Socialist Workers Party or SWP”) is pretty spot on.

Of course it is simply sour grapes and hypocrisy by SPEW since they would act in exactly the same bullying and oppressive way as the SWP if they were the largest UK Trot Party. Such is the nature of the beast.

Funny enough due to substained SWP electoral failure, splits and internal witch hunting, SPEW may soon actually become the new Trot maestro in UK politics! Mind you this means that they will still always be fully paid up members of the lost deposit brigade.

Hat tip thingy to Mac Uaid (who I believe use to be a fellow Newham Labour Party member?).

Check out the comments on this post for great “Life of Brian” meaningless infighting.

I do love it when they slag each other off as being “degenerate”.

1. “Why Not Trust the Tories? By Celticus

Col. Roi has kindly agreed to guest post Labour Movement iconic images and information for this blog. The first is the “Why Not Trust the Tories?” by Celticus (better known as Aneurin Bevan). As true now as 1944 IMO.

TUC pensions conference: “Weathering the Economic Storm”

Live post from Congress House. Pension conferences are a bit like London buses (under Boris). Yesterday I was at the Dutch TUC over pensions and today I am with some of the same UNISON colleagues at the British TUC over similar issues.

The TUC conference is the major pension event of the year for trade union trustees and representatives. There was some direct linkage. TUC General Secretary Brendon Barber mentioned in his keynote speech about poor corporate governance being a major cause of the current financial crisis. So in the Q&A after new Pensions minister Angela Eagle spoke - I put my hand up. My question was to ask the minister to support the long standing trade union policy of having really independent directors sitting on company boards. Particularly in financial services - appointed by pension funds who could bring to Boards the "common sense" trustee approach to stop companies taking excessive risk and paying excessive executive pay.

Angela gave a guarded but interesting reply. She supported the idea of “independent and fearless” voices on Boards who would ask the awkward questions and stand up to experts. She mentioned that the Chancellor is concerned about this issue. She then asked Brendan to respond further. Brendan took the opportunity to gently point out that the Government had recently missed an important trick over this issue by not appointing any truly independent people to run the UKFI which looks after government share holdings in the nationalised Banks. “Bankers to run Bankers” who recently approved the massive pay package for the new CEO of RBS. Governance is key and the government needs to give a new lead.

I think that the unions need to push this issue hard, also the Labour Party needs to dust off industrial democracy policies and think afresh. Better regulation is not enough, independent shareholder directors appointed by owners are desperately needed to see off the next financial crisis. Tinkering around the edges is not going to work and this is politically more clear red water between Labour and the Tories.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Independent Board Directors to save the World? CWC Amsterdam 2009

I am just back this evening from attending a one day Pension workshop organised by the Committee for Workers Capital (CWC).

This took place in the headquarters of the FNV in Amsterdam. The FNV is the Dutch equivalent of the British TUC. The CWC is an international pension activist organisation (and “think tank”) which brings together trade union pension trustees from all over the world.

UNISON had the largest delegation present. There were also British trade union trustees from Unite and the TUC. Others present were from Canada, Netherlands, France, Spain and Denmark. There is usually a wider international presence but later next month there is a big CWC meeting in Australia.

There was some pretty heavy weight presentations. The meeting kicked off with introduction by Ken Georgetti (President - CLC, Chair CWC) then “The G20 London Summit: Headway on financial market regulation? A trade union perspective” (Pierre Habbard - TUAC); Financial Market Regulation: Opportunities and Challenges (Ieke van den Burg - MEP & APG Trustee) and our Janet Williamson (Senior Policy Officer – TUC); Universal Ownership – Fiduciary policies for a New Era (by our Colin Meech and Ben Rudder - UNISON Capital Stewardship programme); Pension investment policies: Is there a need to change in the light of the new economic reality? (Roderick Munster CIO – ABP/AGP) and How do Pension Funds recover? (Niels Kortlever – PGGM).

I will post another time on the various presentations and panel’s discussions which were all very interesting and thought provoking (I am mind way behind on posting things). But one of the most important issues I thought that we discussed today and last night in our informal dinner (thanks to David Levi from “Growth Works”) was the imperative to have proper independent directors on company boards. Particularly in the financial sector.

If we are really serious about avoiding the disasters of recent times. These directors would be representatives of the real owners (us) and not part of the city mafia. They could have a background in trade unions, works councils, retail, local authorities or consumer protection - whatever. They would ask the common sense “What if “questions that the so-called professionals consistently fail to ask in crisis after crisis after financial crisis. In the UK we have in theory AGM votes on company boards. To make this real, not make believe, require that those who hold shares on behalf of collective investments have to consult the real owners on how to vote? Better regulation is not enough – remember that the best people to look after money – own it.

Just an idea to help our Gordon really save the world.

(the UNISON A team L to R - Peter Gaskin, youknowyou, Phillip Foster, Olga Kokkinnis, Richard Yard - photo taken by UNISON staff trustee Jon Dunn))

Sunday, June 28, 2009

UNISON NDC 09 - Housing Debate

I'm still trying to finish off reports about conference. This was a speech on Composite E on the future of public Housing that I also “bumped off”. Interestingly two former tenants from my estate did speak on the debate and there was a current tenant also listening as a delegate (that I know of).

“Conference, we all know that there is a overcrowding crisis in Britain. I myself work I in a large housing estate in East London where it is not uncommon for families to try and bring up several kids in 2 bed high rise flats. So what should we do about it?

Well, in my branch we have experienced and highly qualified specialist development staff who are being laid off because in many areas there is simply no new housing development taking place. At the same time planners are being made redundant in Town Halls.

At the same time we see builders walking off existing sites and laying off their own people. There is practically no new housing development taking place in either the public or private sector. At the same time we land prices at a all time historic low.

At the time same time we have millions of people on local authority waiting lists – a figure estimated soon to reach 5 million.

At the same time we are in the midst of a economic recession and we are being told that the best way out of it is to encourage people to spend, to restore confidence, to pump money into the local economy.

Conference you often nowadays hear the expression “Win, win”. Well, this composite is “win, win”. Let us start a mass housing building programme across the country. Get my members doing what they do best – building homes – get construction workers back on site; get their wages recycled into the local economy helping others into work; and best of all conference get people off waiting lists into real homes we can proud of - Conference. Please support this motion

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Best Labour Victory in the UK – West Ham GC report

On Wednesday was our first Constituency Labour Party General Committee (GC) meeting for a number of months due to the EU election. It was very well attended and despite the pretty dire state we are supposed to be nationally, the mood was strangely upbeat and buoyant.

In the course of things I gave my report as agent on the recent election and tried to number crunch my take on how we had done.

Firstly the good news (and it was largely good locally) in Newham we had just over 40% of the vote. Not only was this share of the vote the best in London but also I understand the best anywhere in the UK. The Tories in Newham came a poor 2nd with just over 16%. London as a whole did much better than the national trend with only a 3% average drop. Our sister borough Tower Hamlets had the 3rd largest national Labour share of the vote. Maybe it is something in the water. Or maybe it’s Labour Councils delivering Labour Policies?

The borough of Newham includes the CLPs of East and West Ham as well as part of Poplar and Canning Town.

The Labour vote in Newham had actually gone up dramatically compared to 2004 but this was due in part to the collapse of the Dis-Respect vote which appeared to have pretty much returned home to Labour. For this election at least. The Labour vote mind is still down from the 50% plus of the vote that the Party use to enjoy 10 years ago. The independent Tamil candidate did take about 7% of the vote which if we earn the respect of this community next year should return to Labour.

Turnout was still very poor – we should have delivered more votes for the Party if we had mobilised better. Good news that the BNP had a drop in support and the Tories are still well behind their 1999 relative high points.

We then had a constructive debate on the lessons to be learnt from the campaign and I believe we are even better placed than before to go into a General and local election. We need crucially to keep up the campaigning and ward based activity. There was a constructive discussion on what worked and what we still need to work on. The new Newham Council policy of free school meals for all primary children is great example of clear red water between us and our opponents. More please more.

We also had another very positive discussion this time on the current state of the National Party. There was a wide range of strongly held views but delegates were polite and fair. Largely full of ideas, enthusiasm and positivity towards the future. It was suggested by the Chair that we will have these wide ranging debates on a more regular basis.

Our MP, Lyn Brown came hot foot from the House of Commons to give her report. We congratulated her on the promotion to the Whips office!

Afterward we retired to The Goose (where else) to complete the putting right of the world at £1.64 per pint.

(Picture is of Labour poster painted on meeting room wall in West Ham Party rooms).

Armed Forces Day


I WENT into a public 'ouse to get a pint o'beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, ``We serve no red-coats here.''
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:

O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' ``Tommy, go away'';
But it's ``Thank you, Mister Atkins,'' when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's ``Thank you, Mr. Atkins,'' when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music 'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' ``Tommy, wait outside'';
But it's ``Special train for Atkins'' when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's ``Special train for Atkins'' when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' ``Tommy how's yer soul?''
But it's ``Thin red line of 'eroes'' when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's ``Thin red line of 'eroes'' when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints:
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an ``Tommy, fall be'ind,''
But it's ``Please to walk in front, sir,'' when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's ``Please to walk in front, sir,'' when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an'schools, an' fires an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' ``Chuck him out, the brute!''
But it's ``Saviour of 'is country,'' when the guns begin to shoot;
Yes it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool--you bet that Tommy sees!

Rudyard Kipling

Today is the first Armed Forces Day. This is an excellent idea. I hope it goes well and is not just supported by the tabloids.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Revolution Devours its Children

Iran: The "cradle of civilisation" and its ignorant moron of a President. Someone who insults its people not only by his blatant electoral fraud but who deliberately kills his countries children to keep in power.

Hat-tip thingy

UNISON LG 09: Independent Safeguarding Authority

I am trying to catch up and post on last week’s conference(s). This is on Composite B which was about the new Independent Living Authority (ILA). Another speech that I was bumped off.

"Conference my branch represents some 3000 members who work for over 140 housing and supporting people employers across London and the Southern England.

We have 2 main concerns about the new authority. Firstly it is money. Many of our members are part time workers and many shamefully are on minimum wage even while working and living in London bringing up families. As you would expect privately run care organisations and agencies pay rubbish money.

While our members understand the need to to have effective safeguards for our residents and clients everyone knows that there is low pay in this sector means that my members whose employers or agencies refuse to pay for registration will have to pay nearly two days pay to register.

Secondly, our experiences of how the Criminal Records Bureau or CRB operates in many housing and social care organisations hardly fills us with confidence that members will be treated properly by the new authority. Routinely despite clear guidances that it should not happy many of our members are CRB checked unlawfully since they have no access to vulnerable groups. Workers have also been been treated unfairly and not in accordance with natural justice in previous investigations over registration.

Finally conference please fully support this call for training and support for branches to properly protect members and campaign to make sure that workers do not have to pay this proposed poll tax on those who care for others.

Please support this motion".

Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival

175th Anniversary Commemoration - Friday 17 to 19 July 2009

From the TUC website here

On February 24th, 1834, six farm labourers from Tolpuddle were arrested on a charge of taking part in an ‘illegal oath’ ceremony. The real offence was that they had dared to form a trade union to defend their livelihood. For this they were sentenced to seven years’ transportation to the penal colonies of Australia. The sentences provoked an immense outcry, leading to the first great mass trade union protest. The campaign won free pardons and the Martyrs’ return to England. It was an historic episode in the struggle for trade unionists’ rights in Great Britain

Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Stinking Dung Hill, Utter Bollex, Bogus, Dishonest, Stream of Rubbish, Vindictive Gits” - Torygraph lies over Pensions.

The normally mild mannered blogger, Tom P, at Capital and Labour tells us as it is! Tom tears to pieces this ignorant Torygraph bile from today’s editorial.

Pensions can be easily portrayed as pretty boring but are actually desperately important to everyone but the very rich. Why on earth does the mouthpiece of the supposedly non-tabloid and “educated” Tory press want public servants to join the national race to the gutter over pension provision?

The local Government Pension scheme was actually brought into existence in the 1920’s by early Town Hall trade unionists many of whom were committed (even in my beloved Labour West Ham!) Conservative Party activists.

Surely we should be driving standards up for everyone? My public sector pension actually costs my employer far less than its personal pension stakeholder.

What kick do this new generation of Tories get out of the prospect of misery and poverty for the many in old age?

Same old Nasty Party – Same old Tories

Hat-tip thingy to Stephen Cowan – leader of the Hammersmith & Fulham Labour group for this video on what really happens to ordinary working people when Cameron Tories take charge.

The Conservative Council leaders are having secret negotiations with property developers in Cannes, French Riviera (of all places) about demolishing H&F local public housing estates. The Tories are determined to export their poorer residents out of the borough. No wonder they are accused of Gerrymandering.

Stephen this morning asked me to send this YouTube posting to UNISON Labour link members to remind them of the nightmare reality of Tory rule.

With pleasure Stephen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cuba: Call off the Embargo President Obama

Today I was part of a UNISON London region reception at Congress House for the General Secretaries of the two biggest Cuban public sector trade unions. Dulce Maria Iglesias Suarez (Public Administration Union SNTAP 3rd left) and Maria del Carmen Rodriguez Reyes (Health Union SNTS 4th left).

Our region recently signed a “Capital to Capital” twinning agreement with the Havana public sector unions. £45,000 was raised towards the cost of a new Ambulance control centre. It is always interesting to meet trade unionists from other countries and share experiences. Recently the role of Polyclinics in London has become a hot topic. Cuba invented “Polyclinics” and their primary health care system is second to none. Housing policy in Cuba and Britain has changed over the last 50 years and is changing still. Many problems are similar to both countries.

However, it is crystal clear talking and listening to the Cubans that the United States embargo on Cuba is still having a hugely detrimental effect on the Country and its people. Because of the embargo workers find it difficult to obtain the specialist safety equipment needed to operate sanitary and sewage works effectively. Ambulances are off the road due to problems obtaining spare parts and even instruction manuals. The economy is obviously adversely affected by the embargo and the ban on US citizens from travelling to the country.

Recent reports suggest President Obama is considering lifting the embargo. It would be a superb symbolic gesture that would mean so much to the world if the “ban” and embargo is lifted. It has been proved to be an embarrassing failure and it continued existence undermines US policy in the region and elsewhere. How can the US morally trade with China but not with Cuba? It all just looks like bullying. It is also completely counterproductive.

I’m not all that sure that President Obama will be listening to advice from John’s Labour blog but the number one rule in politics is if you find yourself in a hole - stop digging.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Housing Associations are “Public Bodies”

There was a degree of “shock horror” in the Housing Association world following the Court of Appeal decision last week on London Quadrant v. Weavers.

The Court found that Housing Associations were in fact Public bodies (abet “hybrid”) and subject to 1998 Human Rights Act and judicial review.
This decision should really be welcomed by everyone. It is just “stating the bleeding obvious” and does not threaten in any way decently run Housing Associations.

Face facts, the overwhelming majority of Housing Associations are wholly dependent on the public purse. They depend on housing benefit (especially direct payment), on direct development grants (more so recently), on favourable planning permission and "gain" (less so recently of course), social care funding and state regulation to ensure cheap and accessible finance.

They have also freely agreed to take over state responsibilities for public housing with regard to allocations, anti-social behaviour, supporting people, regeneration, equalities, social cohesion, training etc.

I like Lord Judge Elias comment that subsidised housing for the poorer element of society is “Almost by definition ... the antithesis of a private commercial activity”. Of course it is!

Frankly the impact on the provision of services should be minimal. Ms Weavers actually lost her case against being evicted because she had a long history of rent arrears. Housing associations that rely on Ground 8 of the Housing Act 1988 to evict tenants who are only 8 weeks in arrears are completely out of order in any case. The Courts had previously no discretion at all to refuse to evict tenants under this ground. This is a completely nasty thatcherite housing policy that has no place in modern day public housing.

There are real issues regarding governance and democratic deficit in many associations but this should not prove insurmountable. I don’t think that Housing Association loans will suddenly become public sector debt either.

Judicial reviews will remain extremely difficult to mount but they will act as an effective break to blatantly stupid housing management decisions.

In any case, well run and responsive organisation has nothing whatsoever to fear from this judgement and should instead welcome it. There has been a debate without end for decades about the nature and role of housing associations. We at long last now have a clear steer.

There are still problems but seize this moment and relish the challenge. We are public housing providers whose raison d'être surely is providing decent homes, helping to regenerate our communities while providing quality housing services. Nuf said?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Speaker Michael Martin and Harry Barnes

"I owe a considerable debt to Michael Martin.
He played a major role in helping to save the few brain cells I have left when I had a stroke in the Commons in 1998. He was Deputy Speaker at the time and when he saw the condition I was in he immediately helped me into his car and rushed me to the Accident and Emergency provision at St. Thomas's Hospital.
He brought Dennis Skinner with him.

It was late in the day as the Commons' was moving towards its adjournment, yet Martin and Dennis kept a watch over me in the hospital for two hours until my son had been contacted and travelled to St Thomas's to take over the vigil.

I have others that I am greatly indebted to at that time. These include Dennis who also contacted my wife by phone and an attendant at the Commons' Chamber who looked after me and helped me down difficult flights of stairs. Then there was, of course, the magnificent staff at the hospital and the attention of my son and of my wife. Ann quickly made it from our home to London, not just to help me with my physio exercises but to take over as my Constituents' de-facto MP for several weeks.

Yet the person who took determined action at a crucial stage was Michael.I hope that it is not just from a sense of gratitude that I resent the fact that lesser parliamentarians helped to hound him out of office when they foolishly thought that this would help save their own embarrassment. They did not know that when you try to feed someone to the wolves, that it only makes the animals more bold.

Michael handled the Commons' far differently than seen from the edited TV snippets which were used against him recently. He mixed with MPs at Westminster in a way that no Speaker in history has ever done, for he broke down the barrier that had hidden his predecessors within the Speaker's quarters. When he held receptions and meetings in his own rooms he acted with dignity, intelligence and kindness and always brought the best out of others. He has my eternal gratitude. This might not matter for most people, but I hope that in a small way it matters to Michael - as it does for me".

Harry Barnes

NEC report on Meeting 19th June 09

The first meeting of the newly elected national executive council scheduled to take place at the end of the national delegate conference was unable to begin. This was owing to the presence of a member who had not been elected, as confirmed by the independent scrutineers' report dated 4 June 2009 which is binding on the union.

The member refused to leave the room despite being asked to do so by the general secretary on two occasions. The decision not to open the meeting was taken jointly by the outgoing presidential team and the general secretariat.The important business of the meeting, to elect a president and two vice presidents, could not be conducted in accordance with UNISON rules and trade union legislation.

The new presidential team will be elected at the forthcoming meeting of the national executive council on 8/9 July 2009. In the meantime, the outgoing presidential team will be consulted on all important matters.

Check out UNISON news.

Yet more disgraceful behaviour by the Ultra Left I am afraid.

David Cameron's NUTTY Friends in the EU

nuf said. Rock on Gav!

UNISON NDC 09: Economic crisis and public services

Click on this link for UNISONTV to see a vaguely familiar red faced delegate stumbling and mumbling on this important issue (about 1 minute into clip)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Haiku - Your Question is Important

I was sent a link by the band who are very supportive of trade unions. Enjoy!

UNISON NDC 09: Capital Stewardship Motion 63

This motion was just missed out being debated on the Friday afternoon. This is a first draft. I can't find the final hand written version. It is pretty much the same.

"Conference I am a UNISON member nominated representative on a Local Government scheme investment pension panel and pension committee for the last 16 years. In London I convene a regional network of pension reps and have been a member of the national UNISON Capital Stewardship forum.

Let me share some of experiences I have come across that has gone on Pension schemes during this time and explain why it is so important that we have more UNISON trained and supported reps on all our pension committees and trustee boards.

Firstly it is absolutely essential that we push for fair balance of trade union reps on the LGPS who have full membership of the committee - with voting rights. In the past many of us were called “observers” on these pensions’ schemes. This mean that in some schemes trade unions reps were literally only allowed to observe meetings, not allowed to raise questions, see documents or ask enquires about how their own money, their deferred pay is being managed.

A number of Treasurer and Council leaders in the past have told trade unionists trying to negotiate representation that – quote - “it would be over my dead body that I will allow a trade union rep on my pension committee”. Often these have been the schemes that had taken pensions holidays in the past or invested your money unchallenged and unquestioned in Icelandic Banks and Lehman brothers.

Also many of you would have had the company Fidelity as your fund manager. Fidelity is one of the leading contributors to the Conservative Party funds despite not declaring this conflict when they tout your schemes for business. This means that profits from your pension contributions, your deferred pay, are being funneled back into the hands of David Cameron who is ideological opposed to secure pensions and of course is planning to dismantle all public sector pensions.

Finally conference you need to be a pension rep to be a champion of human rights. Many of you will attend lobbies, go on demos, buy fair trade products or write letters in support of the environment, free trade unions and anti-poverty campaigns. Why then not be a pension rep and learn from your Union how to challenge your fund managers and make sure they take your members concerns on board with the companies that you own.

Conference – please support this motion and please get local reps to start looking after their own money.

(photo of some early UNISON pension activists preparing to do battle to save our LGPS scheme)

Co-mingling and fiddling the LGPS

Sorry folks, but co-mingling is not some sort of new interesting bedroom practice rather it is the (probably) illegal practice by certain Councils of “borrowing” money from their staff pension funds and mixing it up with their reserves. They then put these merged funds on the money markets at a high rate of interest. But only pay the pension fund a small amount of interest earned and then pocket the difference! Some even charge the pension fund an arrangement fee for the privilege of being diddled. I suppose the money was just “resting” in the Council Bank account.

Check out today’s Observer and LocalGov website. The finance director of the LGA admits that practice could be costing staff pension funds “hundreds of millions” of pounds. UNISON believes that this is actually illegal for an employer to borrow from its pension fund. Now to be clear, no-one is benefiting personally from this but for a number of years the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) has been attacked as having “unaffordable deficits”. Yet by ripping off the LGPS to keep down Council tax by co-mingling; by past pension contribution holidays; by unrealistic expectations on life expectancy and investment returns - some (not all) Councils have contributed to such deficits.

The major reason for this is rubbish governance arrangements by many Councils. We need openness, accountablity and transparency in the LGPS. The best way of doing this is to have staff side nominated representatives with full voting rights on pension committees and panels. If you don’t have representation on such committees of those whose money (deferred pay) it belongs to then you will always have such daftness going on. The Government needs to step in and sort the LGPS out properly.

I’ll post my conference speech on Capital Stewardship next (it just failed by one place to be debated on Friday –such is life)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

UNISON NDC 09 – End of Conference

Conference finished at about 4.20pm yesterday afternoon and I am currently recovering in Worthing - relaxing and drinking coffee in The Denton overlooking the Pier and the beach.

No more motions, composites or standing orders papers to read, no more speeches to write (and never actually deliver) no more fringes, no more plotting and gossiping – thankfully, no more sitting in the most uncomfortable and cramped of seats.

I have a mass of notes made on fringes and controversial debates which I will hopefully write up and post before they get too out of date.

Some initial thoughts. It was a constructive and informative conference, a little quiet compared to previous years, yet there were important debates and decisions taken. I hope that my branch first time delegates enjoyed themselves and that they were not too fed up about being “bumped off” debates without being able to address conference.

Brighton itself, as always, looked after us all. I still prefer Bournemouth but look to forward to I think Manchester next year?

I remember listening to a weather report on Radio 4 one morning last week which described the out look for the day's weather as “warm sunny spells with occasional thundery outbursts”.

Which I thought also summed up UNISON conferences pretty well.

(Picture is of London Regional Convenor, Gloria Hanson, addressing conference. Afterwards I was then quite rightly told off by the President for forgetting to turn off my camera flash)

Friday, June 19, 2009

UNISON NDC 09 - Saving Public Sector Pension Schemes

Conference, Vice President, John Gray, London Region, Housing Association Branch speaking in favour of of Composite B.

It is clear that if the Tories are elected at the next election they will dismantle and destroy public sector final salary schemes. In pensions as in many other things there is clear red water between the Labour Government and the Tories.

But the tory attacks on public sector pensions are based on spite and on lies. The “Big lie” is that our pensions are unaffordable. This is nonsense. Conference, as mentioned before, I was TUPE transferred from a Council to a housing association. We were able to keep our membership of the LGPS. However, if I was to give up the LGPS and join the housing association group personal pension plan it would actually cost my employer more money.

It would cost my employer 16% of my salary to join the Group scheme. At the moment it only costs my employer 13.8% to remain in the LGSP. They actually put this amount on my payslip.

Not only would it cost more up-front but they would also have to pay even more to match the “Death in Service” payment. There is also yet another additional cost they would have to pay - membership of the permanent health insurance scheme needed to replace the LGPS medical retirement provision.

The truth conference is that pensions are costly. If the Tories got rid of the public sector final salary schemes then they would have to replace it with something else that could cost them even more. It is just sheer Tory spite and Tory right wing ideological cant that are schemes are under threat.

Conference it is time to stand up for public sector schemes, stand up to Tory lies and spite and campaign to save our pensions.

Finally, conference the only way that your pensions will be safe is if a Labour government is re-elected next year. Despite our differences at this time - Remember only by Voting Labour will your pension be safe.

UNISON NDC 09 - waiting to speak at conference

(Live post) I'm sitting on one of the “FOR” chairs opposite the podium waiting to speak at conference on Composite “D” Defending Member Pension schemes. I pretty sure that I will not be able to speak since there are 7 other speakers all in favour and no AGAINST speakers. So a point of order will be raised to move to a vote. Expecting to be “bumped off” makes the wait less stressful. I'll post the speech I am hoping to make another time. Which is pretty much what I was going to give on a very similar motion during Local Government conference. I hope Richard Stott from Cornwell LGPS gets to speak. He is a really good LGPS activist and keen to address conference.

UPDATE: We were all bumped off!

UNISON NDC: An Open Letter From Untied Left

This was kindly sent on by Comrade Mercader. Double click, print off and copy for your delegation.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

UNISON NDC Rule amendment 13 & 14

Conference , vice President, John Gray, London Region, Housing Association Branch, speaking in favour of Rule changes 13 and 14

Conference thank you for supporting rule change 9 and giving us in the Community and Voluntary Sector an opportunity to better participate in the union and to help us grow the union. But this by its self is not enough. We need wider change, we need to have structures and sectors in place that reflect the diverse and complex organising challenges that we face.

Take my own situation which is not I think untypical and I hope illustrates why we need sectors and occupational groups. I mentioned before that my branch has members in 140 employers all over London and the South East. But my own employer which is a very large housing association with 1600 staff has UNISON members in at least 7 different local government branches in 4 different UNISON regions. Many members are shift workers, many are part time, many work from home, many work regularly from at least two different office locations often over a hundred miles apart, nearly all “hot desk”. We have 6 different pay arrangements, 5 different staff handbooks, 5 different pension schemes and one central bargaining committee. We have members on performance pay working alongside those on TUPE protection who are not.

Housing associations also have specific employment related housing legislation and regulations from Assemblies, Parliaments, local authorities and Regulators.

Conference this is the world I live in and as mentioned before many CVS activists not just in housing would recognise this world. This is why we need as a sector to identify and develop better ways and systems of supporting activists, representing members and involving them in decisions. In such an environment we need to utilise technology better, we need to learn and communicate better. We need to plan and campaign better. To do this we need to have autonomy, we need co-ordination, we need flexibility, we need occupational groups.

Finally conference I have heard some delegates honestly expressing concerns about consultation and perhaps some things may have astray but to my mind I can honestly say that I think we have had consultation overload on this issue and we need to make up our minds and move on.

My very independent minded branch secretary states that she feels she “has been consulted to death”. Remember nothing is set in stone for ever and there is really nothing to fear and everything for the union to gain. Lets just get on with it.

Please support the rule changes.

UNISON NDC – Wreckers at Work

United Left did what they do best and the card vote on the implementation of the structural amendments already agreed was lost. This was by about 550,000 votes to 500,000.

I appreciate that some delegates did have genuine doubts and concerns about the proposed changes and wanted (yet) more time to consider. But others still seem to think that THE REVOLUTION will only happen if there is an united front of all local government and health workers being led by some chosen vanguard.

Dream on comrades.

The leaflets put out by UL on this vote were completely misleading and scaremongering (IMO),

This decision will mean that some CVS activists will accuse branches of only wanting CVS subscriptions without willing to offer them effective representation. Which I think on the whole is not fair to most branches but such perverse decisions do mean that accusations will be made by CVS activists who are desperate to organise their sectors properly.

Well, two steps forward and one step backwards I suppose. Onwards and forwards to next year.

I was “bumped off” from speaking by a point of order so I will post next the speech I would have made.

(BTW to make sense of this - see previous 2 posts)

UNISON NDC - Rule Amendment 9

Conference , Vice President, John Gray, London Region, Housing Association Branch, speaking in favour of Rule Amendment 9.

This proposed rule change is not just about fair representation and the need to give all members an equal voice. It is also about growing the union and its about organising in our sector.

My branch has over 3000 members spread amongst 140 different employers all over London and the South East of England. The branch and the vast majority of CVS activists from whatever background firmly support this rule change. There are to my mind 2 simple reasons why which I will now try to explain.

Firstly its about fair representation and having a relevant voice

Conference while I freely admit to being a bit of an anorak who actually enjoys going to the regional Local government committee. The other members of my branch who loyally respond to desperate pleas to attend from our office - are after the meetings bewildered by the business of the LG committee. Since that committee is quite rightly dominated by local government issues. So what happens? These delegates don't see it as relevant and fail to go again.

This year for Local government conference I had 3 first time delegates colleagues with me. At the end of the conference one of them said to me that while she had enjoyed coming to Brighton, meeting people,UNIZONE and the fringes - much of the business of conference were on issues that did not directly concern her or her workplace. She had never worked for local government in her life, her employer had never been part of a local authority and had offices in several different borough councils. Conference, again we run the risk that this delegate will not be coming back again to participate in her union.

Secondly it is about organising and building the union. Trade unions are needed everywhere but believe me they are absolutely imperative in the voluntary and community sector. Employment practices in many of these organisations are simply a national disgrace. Not surprisingly union density in the Voluntary sector is very, very low. So there are potential enormous recruitment opportunities but to recruit we need to make the union relevant to the sector. If we don't then Unite and GMB will fill this void.

Conference , this is a fantastic opportunity for not only current members but also those out there who desperately need UNISON in their workplace. Please support all the rule changes needed to bring this about. Thank you.

UNISON has a new "Community" Service Group!

Post from UNISON NDC conference floor. UNISON now has new service groups for “Community”; “Further and Higher Education” and “Police and Justice”. Hooray!

I spoke in favour of the Community Service Group. I'll post my speech next. Interestingly United Left tried to derail the whole process opposing an earlier motion about the structural changes. They were defeated but did not put up any speakers against the first rule changes.

They did come out against related amendments on the “Group Debate” (don't ask) and we are awaiting the result of a Card vote on these changes which are about trying to put the new structures into operation. I tried to speak on this as well but was “bumped off” by a point of order to close debate and go to vote. I thought the arguments against these changes were rather odd. But there are interested parties about. I'll post the result as soon as I can.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

UNISON NDC defeats call for Nationalisation without Compensation

Composite I - Economic Crisis and Public Services amendment I.1

Conference, President, John Gray, London Region, Housing Association Branch speaking in favour of Composite I and against amendment I.1.

Conference this amendment may not be a wreaking amendment in the technical sense but if passed it would be an ugly sore on what is otherwise a very good composite.

I am not going to argue about whether of not the Banks should be nationalised. That is a separate question. Nor will I bring up Capital Stewardship issues on how we can properly exercise influence over them. What this amendment seeks to achieve is the nationalization of all the Banks without compensation.

Conference, we are the owners, we own big chunks of these banks even before the current crisis. Our savings which is invested in our pension funds, our life insurance policies, our co-op and mutual companies savings – are all heavily invested in the banks.

I am speaking as a UNISON LGPS scheme member for 18 years. I have been saving the equivalent of nearly 20% of my salary in it each year. My scheme and your schemes are heavily invested in Banks. My fund in Tower Hamlets is relatively small but it has over £16 million invested in Banks - never mind all the other related investments.

If you nationalise the Banks without compensation you in effect rob every single one of us. Arguably Pension schemes themselves would be under threat as well as insurance companies - mutual companies as well as privately run ones.

Conference I think it is known by those misfortune to know me that unlike some others I do not usually bring up the the Russian revolutionary leader - Lenin - but I understand that even he paid compensation to investors when he nationalised the Russian Banks. So conference for the first time in my life – I will say support Comrade Lenin and his actions and vote against this amendment.

(the amendment had a number of speakers against it and was overwhelmingly defeated)

UNISON Greater London Region Social Tonight!

UNISON National Delegate Conference

I am now completely behind posting on the close of Local Government conference and the start of National Delegate (NDC). It is a really busy time and I hope to catch up with reports on major debates, events, fringes and malicious gossip as and when. Most of it will probably have to wait until next week.

Picture is of top Brighton and Hove Council street cleaner and UNISON member Rob Smith. By co-incidence Rob use to work as a caretaker in my housing office in Tower Hamlets and was a keen and committed UNISON activist. Rob cleans the streets outside my hotel 6am-2pm. We had a brief chat about single status problems in B&H Council.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

UNISON to suspend funding for Labour Party

On the conference floor this afternoon (Tuesday), our General Secretary, Dave Prentis called for UNISON Labour Link to suspend “Constituency Development plans”. This is money given for organising and campaigning in local Labour Parties (not to MP's).

I believe that this will happen and it will be a blow to the Labour Party.

But I also believe UNISON is still totally committed to supporting the Labour Party.

What I felt that Dave was actually doing was sending the Labour Government an unmistakable message that in order to save itself, it has to change and change radically if we want to win the next election. While a tiny majority may object to UNISON allowing members to affiliate to the Party every one of us should be concerned that despite this affiliation the Party is staring at failure which would let the Tories in. They are and always have been the real enemy.

There is a repositioning going on in the Party at the moment and UNISON wants to wade in with its big guns and capture the moment. Suspending Constituency Development Plans is the opening salvos. With the discrediting of the Blairites there is now an opportunity to force changes through which UNISON believes will save the Party even at this late stage.

The battle over further privatisation and market testing is key. Dave I think wants Labour “to come home” he wants clear “red water” over keys policies so we can go out next year in the General Election, win it and save us from the Tories.

West Ham CLP has a UNISON development plan and I am also the Agent. I'll be having some interesting conversations in the very near future with the CLP Chair and Treasurer I think.

(this is my own personal view and reaction. Not that of Labour Link).
Picture Phil Lewis.

LG Conference: Sunday Afternoon

I missed the lunch time Social Care fringe but heard it was well attended and that there was a good debate. The International Speaker was Dulce Maria Iglesias from SNTAP (Cuba).

Things went quite smoothly and I later spoke about Composite F “Local Government NJC Pay Dispute 2008 and Future Pay Strategy” which I thought it was a well thought out, practical and do-able organising plan to improve our bargaining position and reverse last years failure. I'll post my comments next.

We soon ran out of time for the rest of business. I was also trying to speak on defending the LGPS. These motions will be heard after the business of Monday has been finished (if there is time). Conference finished at 5pm.

In the evening our delegation all went out for a meal together to chat and gossip about the days business and plot about tomorrow.

Picture is from the inside of a video cubicle “Add Your Voice” in the UNIZONE (exhibitions and stalls). I gave a 2 minute “interview” on my job and my views about public service. I hope as many UNISON members as possible also visit th ebooth during conference and add their voice as well.

Local Government Pension Scheme Democracy

This is a short article I wrote for our regional Local Government conference newsletter "London Calling"

Good news at long last about trade member representation on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Following vigorous campaigning by UNISON and many branch pension activists there has been a change in guidance issued by the Government. This has resulted in many Councils finally allowing trade unions to nominate representatives to sit on pension investment panels and committee as full members with voting rights.

There is still a lot to do. Most schemes only allow 1 or 2 trade union reps on - while UNISON argues that there should be 50% ot the total. This is the law for private funded pension schemes. So why are we in the LGPS still being treated as 2nd class? There is plenty of evidence that having members on investment funds improves performance and will help safeguard our pensions. If anyone in London is interested in finding out more about being a LGPS rep then please speak to me

Monday, June 15, 2009

Naked Bike Ride

I did see a flyer mentioning a “Naked Bike Ride” in Brighton but I didn't pay that much attention.

To my astonishment yesterday while getting a breath of fresh air outside the conference hall at least 1000 cyclists in various states of undress rode past along the sea front. I believe it was a protest about traffic and climate change.

There were Police cyclists (in full uniform of course) escorting them.

Since it was warm and very sunny I hope they slapped plenty of sun cream on!

Funding in the Community and Voluntary Sector Motion 1.02

Here is the short and to the point speech I made about the amendment.

Conference, President, John Gray London Region, Housing Association Branch speaking strongly in favour of the motion and the amendment with qualifications.

Conference, unfortunately the wording of the amendment, while taken from UNISON's policy position, can be seen as insulting to our members in the voluntary and private sector and the work that they do. While we do believe that these jobs should remain in the public sector, when members are, through no fault of theirs, transferred it does not mean that they do not still do a good job. Rather it means that they often have to do that job in even more difficult circumstances. I was transferred from Tower Hamlets Council into a Housing association and so have direct experience of this.

While I support the formal policy decision I do not want to feel like a “second class” UNISON member because I have been transferred. Please support this amendment with this very important qualification.

UNISON Local Government Conference Sunday 14 June

First full day of LG conference. Forced myself to get up early but soon feeling very smug as I went for a run along the Brighton beach about 7.15am. Lovely glorious warm sunshine. There were still many revellers from the “night before” wandering around. Mostly drinking coffee although I saw one hardy soul still swigging enthusiastically from a bottle of wine.

On the beach itself it is hard going to run due to the pebbles and there was a number of revellers who were fast asleep on the beach surrounded by beer cans while others with metal detectors sweep around their corpses.

There was people swimming next to the Pier while everwhere Brighton Council workers (hopefully UNISON members) were clearing up the beaches and streets.

Our morning branch delegation meeting over breakfast didn't quite work out to plan but we all met up at 9.10 to walk down to the conference centre were we had a team photo outside (see pic). All the other 3 delegates from my branch were here for the first time and were quite rightly asking me loads of questions.

The morning session went okay. There was a bit of a row over the standing orders report. Then after the Local Government Service Group Executive report, there was a another report on “Community and Voluntary Sector (CSV) forum” followed by the first item of business which was about funding in the Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS).

This should have gone ahead without any nonsense but my old branch in fact had I'm afraid put in a crass and pretty badly written amendment which upset many delegates in the CVS. It reaffirmed conference policy to oppose transfer of public services which was fair enough but had at the end “we do not believe that the private or voluntary sector can deliver welfare provision better than the public sector”. Which rattled my cage somewhat. Bob Woods from Barnardo's branch tore into this while I also spoke about being a treated as a “second class” unison member. I'll post what I said later. The rest of the morning business went quite smoothly.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

UNISON Local Government (LG) Conference - Saturday 13 June

This kicked off yesterday with a London Regional delegation meeting at 6pm held at the Holiday Inn. There was a good turn out of delegates and visitors. More chairs had to be brought in for everyone. The meeting was run by Sue from Southwark LG branch and Sean Fox from Haringay LG. Who are the respective Chair and Vice chair of the London Local Government committee with the UNISON Regional head of LG Vicki Easton.

Their was a minutes silence by everyone present for long standing LG activist Malcolm Campbell, who died recently.

There was an election (aka press gang) for regional tellers and then a Standing Orders Committee (SOC) report from Islington LG, Andrew Berry, who had been newly elected to replace Malcolm on the business for tomorrow. SOC is really complicated and confusing to anyone but fellow anoraks. It is actually important to the effective running of conference and the union.

Andrew (who refuses to “engage” with me on this blog since I am so 'orrible about him) reported that the chairs for conference had been changed to make them more comfy. Which if accurate would be good news! He reported on the timetable for motions and the plan for the next two days.

Then there was a rather silly but typical call for a “straw poll” about some procedural matter by the usual suspect. It was completely and utterly irrelevant to the report and should have dismissed by the Chair as the first “Grandstanding” of the conference season. No doubt it will not be the last.

Sean Fox spoke about the official Sunday lunchtime fringe about the social care. He is the branch secretary of the borough which had to deal with Baby P fallout.

Two official fringe meetings were mentioned. On Monday there is a Library fringe (I think that Lynn Brown is speaking?) and there is the Housing fringe on Tuesday.

I mentioned that there are LGPS fringes on Tuesday 5.15pm and Thursday 5.15pm.

Finally David Eggmore announced his retirement from the Local Government Service group. Dave had beaten me twice for that position in recent years. He finished this announcement by saying “Let a 1000 flowers bloom

I had Cod and Chips at the famous Brighton Regency Fish Restaurant. Later on that night I met up with all my good friends at my 2nd favourite local government branch Lambeth! (see picture). My new best friend ever, branch secretary, ace blogger and fellow Labour Party activist Nick Venedi is on the right.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

UNISON Conference 2009

A little late as usual but soon I will very soon be off to Brighton as a branch delegate to first UNISON Local Government and then our National Delegate Conference(s).

Conference is the sovereign decision making body of the union. There will be a London regional delegation meeting tonight at 6pm. Then business will quick off first thing Sunday morning.

I’m going to try and blog “live” this year on the fun and games on the conference floor and fringe events. There will be some really important constitutional rule changes debated on Thursday which I feel are really vital for the future of UNISON. Especially for Housing association members.

Anyway watch this space!

Friday, June 12, 2009

London Living Wage

There is good even in Boris. Well, not a lot obviously of course. But I had tabled as an item to be discussed at our employer/trade union JCC this week - “London Living Wage”.

While I am pretty sure that my employer pays everyone directly employed in London above the “Living Wage” which is now £7.60 per hour. I am equally sure that our contract office cleaning staff, some agency caretaking, concierge and home care workers are being paid either national minimum wage rates or only marginally above. This is just plain wrong.

I wasn’t sure what documentation to submit to support this issue? There is a lot of very worthy but not particularly convincing stuff out there. Then I found this Guardian article from last month which portrayed the Blond one as being very supportive of a “Living Wage” for all. It helps shows the breath of political support in London for a “Living wage”.

I hope that we will become a “Living Wage Employer”. I argued that making sure that our contractors paid a “living wage” is not only a moral responsibility but also good for the Group. We are after all in the business of regeneration and improving our resident’s life chances. There was a slightly stunned but sympathetic response from management side and they promised to look into the issue and to respond.

If you work in London or other areas with high housing costs check out the article, copy it and take it to your employers.

At my Labour Party Ward meeting last night in Forest Gate I noticed that the venue Dunning Hall had this sign (main picture) up on its wall.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Revolution Now! TU Members on LGPS Pension Panel and Committee!

Okay, okay - there is just a little bit of hyperbole in this title but this evening I did attend a Tower Hamlets Investment Panel and Pension Committee which allowed full trade union representation for the first time.

A little bit of background for folk who for some strange reason are not fully aware of the vital importance of LGPS (Local government pension scheme) governance issues. I have been a trade union “observer” on the Tower Hamlets Council Pension panel for about 15 years and an “unofficial” observer on its pension “committee” (often renamed) for about 5 years.

Uniquely – the LGPS is the only funded pension scheme in Europe were contributing members of the scheme have no legally binding representation on the decision making bodies of the scheme (e.g. trustees) who until now have all been local councillors. Click on here and here why this is a bad idea.

After years of campaigning UNISON (with many thanks to Colin Meech the National Officer for Capital Stewardship and his team) the Government changed guidance to “encourage” LGPS to allow member representation as “best practice”. Well done to all the UNISON pension activists (and in other unions) who have finally achieved some success.

A small number of successful LGPS have always allowed representation the vast majority have not. The situation is still unsatisfactory. My scheme is only allowing 2 trade union members on the pension panel and one on the pension committee (initially as an “official” observer).

Often in the Labour movement it is two steps forward to be followed by 1 (or sometimes 3) steps back. So for something quite dramatic to have happened that I have argued for some 10 years is really pleasing. Still much more to do (we want 50% representation) as many schemes are still refusing any staff side representation but it is a start.

There will hopefully be an election of trade union members to confirm who will be the reps.

This is important not only for democratic representation but also for the viability of the pension fund and even the wider economy. The Tower Hamlets fund is worth (even now) over £500 million. The total size of the LGPS nationally is over £100 Billion. It is vitally important that these schemes are properly run.

(Main Picture – by co-incidence this week is the anniversary of the 1381 Peasants Revolt - on Sunday Wat Tyler met the King at Mile End in Tower Hamlets – it didn’t end happily at the time but eventually after some 500 years we got a democracy of sorts – hopefully we will get proper representation in the LGPS sooner than this without any revolts or stabbings - 2 steps forward and all that)

I'll post on the meetings once I have reported to the TUJCC.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hope Not Hate “Not in My Name” Anti-BNP Petition

“Hope not Hate” have set up an on-line petition for people to register their opposition to BNP Griffin and Brons who were elected as MEPs.

It is pretty clear that they were only voted in since many electors decided not to go to the ballot box because of the British Parliamentary allowances crisis.

Despite the BNP total vote being reduced when compared to 2004 they still won this time due to a low turnout and very marginal improvement in their % vote.

We know that democrats do have to address the issue of why people vote for the BNP and that just name calling (or even “egging”) is not enough. But I really don’t think that people understand that the BNP leadership are supporters of Hitler and Nazism.

I also think that the Labour Party everywhere needs to get its act together and start knocking on doors and listening to people; tele-canvassing; holding street stalls, creating local Labour Action Teams, delivering leaflets and most importantly countering face-to-face the lies and hate of the BNP and their fellow travellers.

You can take a picture of yourself holding a message “Not in My Name” and upload it. Some 56,000 people have voted so far.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Supporting People Funding: UNISON gives evidence to Select Committee

Yesterday evening I met up with two of my Group UNISON housing association stewards, Linda and Kay outside the Houses of Parliament. They are both residential Scheme Managers (wardens) of sheltered housing blocks. We were going to the Communities Local Government (CLG) select committee on Supporting People (SP) funding.

UNISON national officers Mike Short and Pete Challis were giving evidence to the select committee based on their report and responding to any questions. I was part of the working group that helped produce the original UNISON report.

The committee of MPs did seem to take their role very seriously and listened carefully to speakers and readily challenged them about their evidence.

Key issues that were brought up included the Personalisation of services in 2011 which should mean that elderly residents of sheltered blocks will be able to purchase “services” themselves directly rather than from the housing provider. So in theory each of the 68 residents of the blocks that Linda and Kay each manage will be able to “purchase” care services independently rather than communally. This could obviously mean the end of local communal wardens.

Also other vital issues were discussed such as competitive tendering on price rather than quality; residential versus floating support; the removal of ring fencing from the Supporting People budgets; the "evil" of 2 tier workforces and the inadequate size of the SP budget given what everyone wants it to do.

Linda and Kay were really impressed with the meeting. They were referred to as “concerned practitioners” by the UNISON presenting officers to the select committee and I am certain that the MP’s clocked that we were ordinary workers (and of course potential voters to them) who were disturbed about this issue.

The meeting finished about 5.45 and all the Labour MP’s went off to the meeting of the PLP to decide upon Gordon’s fate. The select committee are expected to issue their report soon and there will be a government green paper on SP funding in the near future as well.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Gordon Brown’s fight back starts in the heart of Labour

Yesterday I had been intending to go to straight to the start of the Newham Euro-election count for the 3pm start. To my surprise on Saturday afternoon I was telephoned and invited to attend a “meeting” in the old Town Hall, Stratford starting at 3pm to be addressed by a “VIP speaker.

We all know what that means. So on Sunday there were a large number of mostly Newham Labour Party activists waiting outside the Old Town Hall to get in with press and TV in attendance.

The Old Town Hall is a historic Labour movement site. It was on the balcony above all of us waiting outside to get in that Keir Hardie made his victory speech following his election in 1892 as the first ever Labour MP. West Ham has been a Labour stronghold pretty much ever since.

Once we got in there was standing room only inside the actual meeting room and I guess there were about 125 people in total. Nearly everyone was in their “Sunday best” and people generally I thought were a little nervous beforehand and unsure about what was happening.

Harriot Harman and Peter Mandelson walked in and took their seats on the stage to applause. Prime Minister Gordon Brown came in after a short warm up speech by Harman.

Gordon then gave a relaxed, confident, humourous and very personal speech. Listening to him you would not believe that he is under the pressure he must be under. He gave the impression of being on a “Walk in the Park” or what! To my surprise the Q&A afterwards also went really well, I mean utterly positive and supportive. I will admit that I thought that someone would in fact stick the knife in. But no – nothing but supportive comments, and the most pointed contribution I thought was from a Southwark activist (I didn’t catch his name) who reminded the parliamentary Labour Party that they are only a part of the party and that activists don’t necessarily share their obsessions for a leadership change.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Labour smashes all opposition parties in Newham Euro contest

I’m back from the Count (and a swift beer at Millers) and thought that I will post on Newham result first. I’ll post on the Gordon Brown meeting later.
1st The Labour Party - 19,331 votes
2nd Tories - 7,866
3rd Jan Jananayagam (Tamil protest) - 3,501
4th Greens - 3,356
5th Lib Dems - 2,761
6th UKIP - 2,717
7th Christian Bigots Party - 2,419
8th BNP (Hitler worshipping cult) - 2,144
9th No2EU (Trots and CPers love fest) - 660
10th Socialist Labour (our beloved leader Arthur) - 534

There were another 9 minor parties. Turn out I think was 27% (47,994). Great result for Labour – well done to our ace organiser Lisa and all activists in Newham Labour Party.

The count itself went very smoothly although it took a long time to go through all the “doubtful” ballot papers (742). Congratulations to all Newham Council staff (mostly UNISON members no doubt) who took part. Now stuff elsewhere ain’t looking that good for Labour so far but we will have to wait and see.

Off to Newham Euro count

I’m now off to be a Labour Party agent at the European elections count in East Ham town hall.

It shouldn’t take too long but the result cannot be given out until 9pm. I believe that this is the time that all Euro-polls across the EU will be finished.

On route I am going to a special meeting which should be very interesting and I will hopefully post about later.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

D-Day 65th Anniversary - Bands of Brothers

I have been watching the moving TV coverage of the D-Day remembrance ceremonies taking place today in Normandy. While on holiday recently I read the book “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose.

I had never watched the original series on TV but my 16 year old nephew encouraged me to buy the DVDs when his father and I took him to the Normandy beaches for the weekend on his birthday a few years ago.

The book was even better than the Tom Hanks and Spielberg TV series in one way since it also told the story of the individual soldiers before (and after) the War.

The vast majority were very ordinary working class Americans many of whom had known hard times during the “Great Depression”. The book is also a more honest account of the very human failings of individual officers and soldiers who with incredible bravery parachuted into Normandy alongside their British, Canadian and French allies 65 years ago last night.

In these somewhat difficult economic and political times it is perhaps important to remember Ambrose’s conclusion that the proficient, well equipped and professional war-hardened German Army was defeated essentially because a democracy produced better soldiers and armies than dictatorships. The Americans were no more patriotic or braver than the Germans but freethinking liberal democracies produce soldiers with more élan, flexibility and imagination.

One example of this would be if they received orders that they thought were stupid, most of the officers, NCOs and soldiers would ignore them if they could. So despite practically none of the very young American airborne conscripts initially having any combat experience they defeated time and time again superior numbers of German troops.

Recently we have been quite rightly wallowing in our own political and economic class failings that we sometimes forget that democracy is of course the worse form of government - save all the rest.

(main picture is from the Bayeux British War grave)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Things can only get better!

I started the day at 7.15am at Forest Gate Railway station, E7 handing out USDAW (shop workers trade union) “Vote Labour – Stop the BNP” leaflets with Ellie, West Ham Youth officer. We had on the whole a very good response apart from a bizarre comment from a black man with an African accent who told us that he would never vote Labour because we “had given all the jobs to East Europeans”.

I had to go to meetings during the day and deal with urgent, urgent case work. In the evening we were handing out leaflets outside Stratford Station, E15. We had a weird discussion with TFL (Transport for London) staff about the vexed issue of whether or not we could put our posters on certain metal railings. We thought they were public railings, the TFL said they belong to them (we moved “under protest” to new site – see photo). 4 members of the Socialist Workers Party turned up and set up a stall over something. They were most annoyed that we were handing out other USDAW leaflets and that I was shouting out to people as I was handing out leaflets “trade unions for Labour”. I noted that like last Saturday at our Stall they were all white and middle class while we Labour Party activists actually represent the diversity of our borough.

Afterwards we went “knocking up” in Green Street West ward. There had been a few computer problems with the new Labour Party "polling day" software but it was sorted out. Again, we got a good reception with just a few wry smiles and comments but people pretty solid Labour. We packed up about 9.15pm since we ran out of “Knocking up” sheets. Had a detailed debrief at “The Goose” (world also put to rights) and I came home at 10.30pm to find out that James Purnell had resigned and has asked Gordon to go. Well, at least he waited until the polls closed I suppose.

Anyway, I’ll be at the count on Sunday, the following Sunday we will restart campaigning and we already planning our “thank you” leaflet to voters. We perhaps should be grateful that we do live in interesting times.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Final countdown to London Euro-elections

This morning I was delivering this leaflet to my ward. By co-incidence the UKIP MEP Gerard Batten lives close by and yesterday I posted one of our leaflets through his letter box. No matter how daft and ignorant UKIP is at least they take votes away from the BNP.

This evening I was at West Ham HQ in Stratford busy trying to organise for tomorrow.

The Labour Party is going through a difficult time at the moment and it will be silly for activists to pretend otherwise. However, I am really encouraged by the relatively very high level of political campaigning activity recently in West Ham and Newham. I think this is a sign that Party is not quite in the state that some would suggest.

We are probably going to get a bit of a kicking tomorrow but I am still convinced that the General election will be fought “on the economy stupid”. The Government has bravely taken huge risks to rescue the economy which I believe are working and will soon expose the Tories who have unbelievably stuck to their “do nothing” and “lets have a depression” policies.

Now the back of a beermat calculation about the importance of turnout tomorrow.
e.g. If the BNP need 8% of the vote in London to secure an MEP then if only 1 million Londoners vote then they only need 80,000 voters across London to succeed. They can probably get that support.
BUT if 2 million Londoners vote they will need 160,000 voters to get a MEP. Which they will find very, very difficult.

So everyone - get the vote out! But still Vote Labour.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

East Ham Euro Canvass

Yesterday evening I helped out with some door knocking in East Ham. We had the support of some of our London Labour Euro-candidates and staff. I saw Claude and Anne.

It was another overwhelmingly positive canvass for Labour which does make me suspicious of national polls. I also had a number of very constructive conversations with residents who on the whole seemed really pleased that we were personally canvassing them and asking for their votes. I only had only one voter who said he was definitely not voting for Labour because of the expenses Parliamentary issue and even he said he would vote for us in the Council and General election next year. He just wanted to punish all the Political Parties by withdrawing his vote. Which I hope he will change his mind about.

There was a nasty motor bike accident outside our meeting point and the Police closed off the main road as a potential crime scene so it took us a while to get out of the area.

Picture is of my ace canvass team that evening which comprised of mo!, Cllr Ayub Korom Ali, Councillor Ayesha Chowdhury and Giampi Alhadeff who is the General Secretary of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Lest we forget: BNP: Traitors to our Country

This is another superb leaflet from “Hope not Hate” reminding people of the true nature of the BNP/Nazi beast. They are traitors to our country for supporting Hitler’s Nazi ideology in Britain. Especially during a time when we remember the bravery and sacrifice of our troops during the D Day landings which led to the liberation of occupied Europe from the Nazi.

No pasarán!

Galloway is a Norwegian Blue in Green Street West.

We had some 20-ish Labour party members out yesterday morning from all over Newham. This was despite the glorious warm sunshine and blue skies.

Green Street West use to be the “heartland” of diss-Respect in Newham. All their 3 councillors were elected to this ward. They have now pretty much disintegrated.

I didn’t find a single person who admitted to being a Respect supporter. It was quite, quite different from canvassing here during the very stormy Council elections in 2006. When we faced a largely non-Newham imported motley collection of ultra left revolutionaries and the far right Islamic extremists screaming abuse and threats at us.

Lyn Brown MP joined us as well. No-one at all mentioned MP expenses (Lyn said if anyone brought it up then bring her over and she would speak to them personally) but I suspect that some Labour voters will punish the Party by staying at home on Thursday. Hopefully not that many and I think they will return to Labour next year.

Fellow UNISON Labour Link activist Alan Griffiths and I got shut inside a modern gated development off Romford Road which had no internal entry door opening - so we had to climb over a 6ft brick wall to get out. Why waste money getting fit by joining a gym when if you are trade unionists you can join the Party for only £1 per month and go canvassing!

Afterwards we had a debrief and forward planning session at the “Black Lion”.

It was a good day locally despite difficult national circumstances.