Monday, November 30, 2009

Our Union Reclaimed

Hat-tip thingy to Comrade Mercader (double click picture) who invites us to an early Crimbo social I think?

I couldn't possibly comment but it sounds like a fun event.

Can't wait!

Lollypop vs Nazi: Couling vs Barnbrook

The Labour Party's Louise Couling will be challenging the BNP's Richard Barnbrook for his seat on Barking and Dagenham Council in 2010. Good luck Louise! Icepicker100.

Great video Icepicker! - check out this report here about UNISON NEC member Louise and her campaign. Louise is a true Brit - anti-fascist, trade union, Labour Party loyalist.

The other Labour Candidates standing in Goresbrook ward are Graham Letchford and James Clee.

UPDATE: Labour list

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Stratford Labour Party Street Stall 27.11.09

It was just a little bit too cold and windy on yesterday's stall. People were rushing around and not as keen to stop and chat. Despite this we managed to recruit 3 new Labour Party members and we still had people coming up to us and asking about the free school meals for Newham primary school children.

One rather large chap came up to the stall and announced loudly “Labour is not a good party in Newham” to which we thought “oh, oh” then he said “No, it is the very best Party; it has done excellent things for elders and young people in Newham”. Fair enough. A local pensioner whose son lives now in Kent and has 3 primary school age grandchildren was really impressed with the free school meals. She thought this was very good for ordinary working people. The cost of a school meal in the next door Tory run London Borough of Redbridge is £1.93. If you had 2 children of primary school age for one year this would save you £752 (£1.93 x2 x5 days x39 weeks). This makes a real difference to the low paid and is clear red water for any future election manifesto. I hope this measure is adopted nationally by the Party. If you have a hungry belly you do not learn.

Our stall was in front of the shopping precinct right next to a Paintball Stall and a very dedicated Christian preacher with a mike. Also there were various other people milling about giving out invites, phone cards and other offers.

An ex-respect Council candidate at the last election came up to have a bit of a moan but was not that serious and he confirmed that Respect in Newham was pretty much a dead duck. Which of course is such a shame.

THE WAVE: Come together to Stop Climate Chaos

Take part in The Wave with UNISON
UNISON members taking part in the London demonstration are being asked to assemble at the UNISON stand in Upper Brook Street from 11am. The March gets underway at 12 noon from nearby Grosvenor Square. The March is being organised by Stop Climate Chaos. It is being called the Wave to symbolise rising sea levels associated with climate change, and the wave of public opinion in support of a deal to reduce the emissions that cause climate change. All marchers are being asked to where something blue!

The Co-op party and
SERA have approached UNISON about linking up to form a Labour family block – which seems like a sound idea. The chances of success are very much in the balance at Copenhagen. The March represents an opportunity to send a strong message from civil society organisations that we that we want world leaders to go the extra mile to secure meaningful targets on emissions reductions and the support that will be necessary for the developing world to adapt to climate change.

In addition to this, along with other trade unions and union confederations from around the world (including the ITUC and the PSI), we have been pushing for a specific clause to be included in the climate deal that will ensure a ‘just transition for the workforce’. These efforts have been rewarded. The UN's draft negotiating text for Copenhagen includes a commitment to ‘a just transition for the workforce that creates decent work and quality jobs.’ Whilst the ITUC / PSI delegations will be working hard to ensure that this clause remains in the final agreement at the talks, it is important that we raise the visibility of this vitally important component of the deal, as well as demonstrate the commitment of the Labour family to the broader package.

not very happy about wearing Blue? But when I was a kid I use to be a Everton supporter I suppose?)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

“...the disorganisation of the Homeless left...” Sects play "Rule or Ruin"

It appears that the SWP and SPEW dominated “disunited Left” are up to their usual tricks of “Rule or Ruin”. Unusually they are working together on trying to wreak the North East Shop Stewards Network (NESSN). This is being led by their local full time paid staff (bureaucrats?). Their reasons for this are essentially sectarian and their methods completely divisive and destructive. Which I think the minutes of the meeting below prove. This brings the labour movement into disrepute. A good thing that at least UNISON activists in the north east do not have to experience any of this in our internal union democratic structures. This to me proves the importance of the union upholding its rules when unscrupulous elements organised by their political sects attack the union while defending the indefensible.

Check out also the public statement put out by the SWP about the secretary of NESSN who is one of their own members (not for long methinks). In the meanwhile the witch-hunting SWP have expelled a SOSA student organiser that I posted on before here.

Hat-tip thingy to Tynesider.

Report on the ‘Whither NESSN – Building the Network’ meeting, 19 November 2009
Sue Abbott declined to take her turn as chair and Alan Docherty volunteered.
1. Present:
With the right to vote: Sue Abbott, Alan Docherty, Bob Murdoch, Dave Harker, Ed Whitby, Fran Heathcote, Hannah Walter, John Malcolm, Julie Young, Paul Baker, Ray Smith, Simon Hall, Stuart Bracking, Tommy Gardner, Tony Dowling, Vicki Gilbert-Jackson
Without the right to vote: Elaine Brunskill, Kieran Picken (non-member), Norman Hall, Paul Phillips, Phil Wilson,
Simon Elliott, Trevor Bark, Yunus Bakhsh
2. Apologies:
Dave Ayre, Dave Hardaker, Geoff Abbott, John Gilmore, Kevin McHugh, Ross Carbutt, Shirley Winter
3. Secretaries’ Reports.
1. The Regional Secretary made the following points:
* This is an ordinary meeting of NESSN.
* The AGM takes place in spring each year and requires proper notice to the 111 comrades who are entitled to vote, propose and second candidates - and stand - for the Committee, and due notice of any motions and constitutional amendments.
* A small number of comrades did most of the work in NESSN.
* NESSN has grown to 205: 111 with full rights, according to the National Shop Stewards Network’s Founding Basis - which allows only those holding elected trade union positions to vote, and which NESSN abides by - and 96 with the right to use the email network and speak at meetings, but not to vote or proposes, second or be candidates for the Committee.
* NSSN is a voluntary body in London, dominated by one political group, and is largely a paper organisation.
* No regional SSN is anywhere near as big as NESSN, and most controlled by that same political group.
* The Northern TUC does little or nothing to support workers in struggle and Trades Councils barely exist.
* The NE left as a whole has built nothing of any size that has lasted, for at least forty years.
* All the organised left groups are very weak, and amount, at most, to 40-45 active comrades.
* The two larger left groups have ‘democratic centralist’ structures and appointed organisers.
* The voluntary structure of NSSN and the ‘democratic centralism’ of the larger political groups were bound to come into conflict with NESSN’s democratic structure, and this has now happened.
* There is a huge hole where sound rank and file organisation should be in the face of the growing attacks
on the working class, largely because of the disorganisation of the Homeless Left (grayee emphasis).
* NESSN is an information network, and this meeting has been called to discuss moving forward.
At this point a comrade who had no right to vote proposed a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Regional Secretary, which was seconded by another comrade who had no right to vote. Both were appointed paid organisers of small political groups. The discussion that followed was often incoherent, but raised the following issues:
* One comrade complained that NESSN had ‘done nothing’ to support the CWU dispute.
* Several comrades pointed out that all the original platform and almost all the known organisers of the Public Service Not Private Profit event were Networkers, yet none of them had asked NESSN to help build the meeting or be represented on the platform. NESSN is a network, not a hierarchy, and the responsibility to network on such important matters is everyone’s. Why was this not done in this case?
* Three comrades, who had gone to the NSSN’s Annual Conference in London and ‘volunteered’ for the Steering Committee, claimed to have been ‘offended’ when Dave pointed out the fact that the Committee decided who should represent it at NSSN events.
* One of the ‘offended’ accused Dave of being ‘sexist’.
* Another of the ‘offended’ alleged that NESSN had ‘merged’ with the Tyneside Socialist Forum, but a leading comrade in TSF completely denied that was the case.
* Dave had challenged whether some events were really broadly-based, politically.
* Dave had allowed the ‘Morning Star’ event – a ‘Communist Party front’ - to go on the website. * Dave was ‘bureaucratic’ and his tone was sometimes tart.
Dave thanked his supporters and replied to the criticisms:
* There had been no serious political or organisational criticism of him, but there had been smears and lies.
* All but one of the critics belonged to ‘democratic centralist’ political groups, and the other was an embittered ex-member, and they clearly found it hard to accept genuinely democratic elections and accountability.
* They had tried to bully Dave to support their various front organisations, but had been unsuccessful.
* Their problem was not with ‘bureaucracy’, but with democracy.
* They had not recruited to NESSN, and were a brake on its development.
* All Networkers are entitled to email each other, without ‘going through the Secretary’, but the critics’ wanted a hierarchy that their small political groups dominated.
* NESSN had very few rules, but the Committee had to enforce them, and, between Committee
meetings, Dave bore that responsibility.
* All Networkers can complain to any elected comrade on the Committee, but not one had done so.
* Dave had received a complaint that the Youth Fight For Jobs event was not advertised on the websites of the unions it claimed to be supported by, and he found this to be true, so he asked for hard evidence to support the claim, which eventually arrived, and the event appeared on the website.
* After Dave gave his reasoned response to the YFFJ comrade’s vicious complaint, he received a second vicious message, which he also circulated widely, and at that point three Networkers resigned in disgust. This sort of ‘broadcasting’ was turning comrades away from NESSN, just as had happened in the past.
* Two NSSN Officers in the same political group as the YFFJ organiser had tried to bully Dave, but failed, so they refused to send NSSN documents to NESSN until the NSSN Chair took over that responsibility.
* Another event organiser was asked to provide similar evidence for the broad based character of his event, but said ‘don’t’ bother, so Dave didn’t.
* Dave tried to find out who Public Service Not Private Profit were, since all but one of those involved were in the same political group, but they had chosen to use their own name. The PSNPP website had nothing about the event and the email address on the leaflet did not work. Dave contacted several of those who advertised themselves as PSNPP and asked who was on its committee and how to contact their Secretary, but they all failed to respond. They were all in the same political group. NESSN took a stall to the meeting, where the chair, doorkeeper, bookstall organiser and ‘supervisor’ were in the same political group, and two speakers on the platform were in the same group as the YFFJ organiser.
* The decision to put the ‘Marxism Today’ event on the website was a close one, but it was organised by the People’s Press Printing Society, which includes many comrades not in the Communist Party, and the organisers had brought together a very broad-based political platform, including one leading Green.
* The false accusation of ‘sexism’ was beneath contempt.
* The allegation that there was any organisational link between NESSN and TSF was wholly untrue. Dave Ayre and Dave Harker had agreed to speak at the first Left Unity meeting in their personal capacities.
* NESSN had supported the principles for which the voteless seconder of the illegal no confidence motion had been attacked, and had incurred great displeasure in genuinely bureaucratic and right-wing quarters; so if this illegal motion were to be carried, the right-wingers would be laughing their socks off at their new allies.
* The illegal motion was designed to wreck NESSN, because a few members of two small political groups saw it as competition, and they wanted to take it over and ‘front’ it with a few fellow-travellers.
The Chair proposed postponing the vote until the 2010 AGM, but sixteen of those present (including several with no right to a vote) insisted on voting on what the Chair described as a ‘wrecking’ motion. Dave confirmed that the vote would be unconstitutional and illegal. If it was passed those voting for it would be seen by the 180 other Networkers as making an attempted ‘coup’ by a handful of people in two small sects; but the Committee elected at the 2009 AGM would remain in office until the 2010 AGM.
Several comrades without the right to a vote put up their hands, but among those who would be entitled to vote on a legal motion, the illegal motion of no confidence in Dave was passed by a majority of three. This took almost all of the two hours and the other Secretaries’ reports, and the rest of the agenda could not be discussed, so the Chair had to close a meeting designed to focus on Building the Network.
Dave Harker, Regional Secretary, North East Shop Stewards Network

(I'll post in "comments" a truly python alternative account of this meeting)

UPDATE: Andy Newman on Socialist Unity has linked to this post and it has set off an “interesting” series of comments on this issue.

Friday, November 27, 2009

West Ham Parliamentary Shindig.

On Wednesday evening our local Labour Party GC (General Committee) was held at the Jubilee Room in the House of Commons. West Ham Labour Party activists were also invited by our MP Lyn Brown for an informal meeting and thank you event for all the hard work done by members in the previous year.

Lyn had provided a cold buffet spread for us and she had managed to “persuade” (whip speak) 8 Cabinet Ministers and other high profile ministers and MP’s to come and talk to us. Instead of the usual sequence in these type of events of 3 minute (and the rest!) soapbox political speeches we had John Denham; Ed Balls; Ed Miliband; Hilary Benn; Douglas Alexander, Ben Bradshaw; Liam Byrne, John Healey, Stephen Timms, Gareth Thomas, Ian Wright, Chris Mole, Dianne Abbott and fellow whip Sharon Hodgson - just mingling and chatting with Party activists about their views and concerns. Which I thought was simply marvellous. Needless to say West Ham Labour Party members were not slow to give their Parliamentary comrades the benefit of their opinions!

A very good night was had by all (I had to rush off early to take the train to Manchester for the Thursday UNISON National Housing seminar where Minister John Healey was the keynote speaker - will post soon on this).

Apologies to West Ham members who were on the optional House of Commons tour when I took the Group photo (and those I could not get in the photo or cut in half!).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Benefit night in memory of George Woznicki and Colin Clark

Benefit night in memory of our former colleagues George Woznicki and Colin Clark

Saturday 5th December 2009
8 P.M. onwards at Exmouth TRA Hall, Exmouth Street, London E1 OPW
Tickets £20
Includes Buffet & Raffle
(All proceeds go to Macmillan)

For tickets please email via the "about me" section of this blog and I will pass on contact details. George and Colin use to work in the same Tower Hamlets Housing Estate office and both of them sadly died prematurely of cancer. This superb benefit night is being organised by their former colleagues John (not me), Sarah and Jenny. Well done to all of them! It should make us all think of our lost comrades but also be a good night out and raise lots of money for an important cause. This is the true East End at its very, very best!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SERTUC Question Time: Do Unions Matter?

The invite actually said that the theme of this trade union "Question Time" was “In these modern progressive times where we are moving towards globalisation do unions still serve a purpose? What specific purpose do they serve?”

It was organised yesterday evening by the South eastern region of the TUC (SERTUC) and the format was very much based on the BBC “Question Time”. The panel compromised of (left to right) Glenroy Watson (RMT) Karen Jennings (UNISON Health); Chair Trevor Sterling (Thompsons Solicitors);); Rosemary Laryea (Presenter “Colourful Radio”); Linda Perks (London UNISON/SERTUC) and Sam Gurney (TUC). I was with our UNISON Regional Convener Gloria Hanson.

Questions were posted on the web and passed on to the panelists by the relaxed and good humoured Chair. Usual health warning that people were speaking faster than I can type accurately. This report is only a snapshot of the first question since if I was to editor the whole report on the entire evening I will probably never finish it.

The first 1st question was around “is Industrial Action effective?” Which I think is a key question to trade unionists. Karen Jennings said yes it is effective but for most trade unionists it’s the last card you play. Which you should only take it when you think you can win by it. You must have your “troops” lined up behind you in support and you must work out what management will do in response. You should aim to win strikes within 1-3 days. It is the threat of Industrial action that will bring most employers back to the negotiating table. Linda Perks said it was a weapon that reinforces negotiation and is very much a last resort. It is part of armoury to get a negotiated settlement. The law makes it almost impossible to take lawful industrial action. However, if the Tories get in it would be even worse. Employers are using the law more and more.

The response from the floor by UNISON NEC member Glen Kelly was not entirely unexpected. He pointed out that the recent Leeds Bin Strike had been successful but has lasted more than 3 days (11 weeks). Karen responded by saying yes that had been a great victory with a crystal clear outcome but generally if you bring out health care or social services out for this length of time in one go we would lose public sympathy.

Glen in another response about the European President contest made a very interesting remark (to me anyway) that Tony Blair was the “most hatred Man in Britain”. Now this may have been just daft hyperbole but I don’t think so. Some people may indeed hate Tony Blair while others may think he should be the most hated. I guess that many present that night would think would think that he was no friend of the trade union movement, but I would bet my bottom dollar that no rational person actually believes that Blair is the most hated person in the land. We were of course talking that night about the BNP leader Griffin. So we have an insight into those who live in a very different world from ours and see things through a different prism from those who live on planet Earth.

I may post further on the rest of this evening since it was a really good night but I have too much stuff to post at them moment and I don’t think that people bother reading long posts. So my new regime is little and often.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Walter Tull: First Black Officer & Footballer

There will be the launch of a new biography about Black British Football and First World War Military hero, Walter Tull.

The book is called Walter Tull, (1888-1918), Officer, Footballer by Phil Vasili.

Check out this amazing story on Wikipedia here. Despite being brought up following the death of his parents in a Bethnal Green Children’s home he not only became the 2nd Black football player but went on in the First World War to become the first Black commissioned Army officer. Walter volunteered to join the army late 1914 and was killed in action in 1918.

I wonder how many members of the BNP have relatives who served their country as well as Walter and what do they make not only of his patriotism but also his ultimate sacrifice?

Tuesday December 1 at 6.30pm @ Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury St, London, WC1B 3QE
To reserve your free place phone 020 7637 1848 or email

Monday, November 23, 2009

Newham Compass Launch with Neil Lawson: A Bright Future for Royal Mail?

Last Wednesday there was an inaugural meeting of a borough wide Newham Compass group. The speakers were the Chair of Compass Neil Lawson (right) and Lee Waker (left) who is the East London Political officer of the CWU (and a real Postie) as well as a Labour Councillor in Barking and Dagenham.

The meeting was in the Emmanuel Church Hall in Forest Gate and chaired by local Party activist Christopher Owens. There wasn’t that many of us (nine) but Neil didn’t seem to mind: -

Firstly he complimented the small but perfectly formed meeting. It only takes 5 people to change the world. Quality never mind the quantity matters in politics. Compass is a pressure group not a think tank. Ideas are essential but we need to make things happen. He doesn’t believe in the Labour Party “Leadership betrayal” tradition. It is much better to point out what the Party has achieved but also point out that this is not enough and the party needs to be transformed. A big Parliamentary majority doesn’t mean big changes. The forces of conservatism - the Daily Mail, the CBI etc. blocks change. We have to form alliances. The Greens have many better ideas than Labour or the Liberal Democrats but there are not serious enough about getting power.

New Labour should be criticised for not being new enough and not Labour enough. It is too rooted in bureaucracy and too right wing. They have done many good things but not good enough. Pragmatic politics not revolution however means things should be built slowly and purposefully.

Compass had worked hard with the CWU to stop the part privatisation of Royal Mail. This would have meant that the terms and conditions of Royal Mail workers would have been eroded and their bargaining position weakened. New Labour views everything from the prism that global completion is good thing and it is also an inevitable thing. The job of government is to help this take place. Therefore the best route is for Royal Mail is to be opened up to private sector competition to perform in the long term.

This is very much a monoculture view. One view of society which we think is wrong. There is no rationale or reason for this one view. There is no basis for private sector money in Royal Mail. There are plenty of alternatives. There is an ideological view. Load of angst about the union, its force and power and how it can be broken. We have a more public view of the sector. We looked at the BBC, Network Rail, and Welsh Water. There are loads of different models. The Government is fixated with one model of part privatisation. We put forward alternatives which were rejected out of hand. Eventually the government had to accept they could not get it through.

Why does the Royal Mail matter? It’s about building institutions. Why after 12 years of Labour Government did the economic crisis caused by bankers turn into an attack on public sector? Why are we facing losing a 70 seat majority? If we do, this will be worse than 1979. If we lose where can the unions and local government regroup and survive the Tories? We need institutions such as Royal Mail. When you walk into a NHS hospital you are not just patients. We are not just consumers but citizens. With Royal Mail it doesn’t matter where you live you still get the same services. When you queue in the post office you are treated as equal citizens not consumers. That is why we think they are so important. Thatcher said that “economics was the means; the goal was to change the soul". People had the choice to be greedy and selfish. She set out to destroy collective institution and replace with individual institutions. People did not believe in society. We should have done more to oppose these ideas we need to stop the poor getting poorer and stop the planet from burning (finish).

Lee meanwhile has worked for Royal Mail for 22 years. He had been a member of the Labour Party for 35 years. He had a traditional Labour background. He is also a Labour councillor in Dagenham. The recent dispute is about caring for one another, people standing up for people, an injury to one is an injury to all. He is not just a member of a union he is a trade unionist. His branch is based on real values. They all go out of the way to support others. Even if we lose money. Week in, week out, not at work, not getting paid is an enormous sacrifice. London CWU had been out on strike practically one day a week since June. He thought that the dispute had been planned centrally in the government. It’s not just Mandelson. The CWU are seen as the next Miners.

We had a 63% ballot result in favour of strike action. We had strong public support. It was really touching. People have seen this selfish society we have had since 1979. Good things have been done by Labour such as new Schools and hospitals but it is still dog eat dog. We councillors have to see people deal with loan sharks, this is the real world. People also see its dog eat dog. That is why we get support. The arguments for privatisation came from the Tories when you had British Leyland and Steel. But this has meant that 60% of manufacturing jobs has gone. The idea of New Labour is a Thatcher idea. When Thatcher was asked what was her best achievement? She said it was to change the Labour party. I am a socialist but I now agree with right wing in the Party that I use to argue with in the 1970s. We all believe in public housing and public services. We are now all social democrats, we are all reformers right and left.

The job of changing politics is still down to the Labour Party and trade unions. Trade unions are partly to blame for the current situation. My own union voted 80% to get rid of Clause 4. Which was not of course perfect but - I was known as being far left but I kept my seat and beat the BNP at the last election.

The Privatisation of Royal Mail. Royal Mail is a unique public service. Private companies are sponging off the universal service we provide. We have the best and cheapest post service in Europe. Why are private companies angry about the strike? Surely they should have seen it as a great money making opportunity? No, because it is us that have to deliver “the final mile”. Our productively has increased no end. We have lost loads of jobs. We now have a “clear office” policy. We’ve done what we can but that has left our members so angry. The total post has only fallen by 5%. Mail volumes have increased massively in the last 20 years. It is hardly surprising mail volume have fallen due to recession. Compared to when I started work the volume of post has increased. Direct mail alone has increased rounds and too many people are now threatened with sack if they cannot cope.

The Royal Mail Pension scheme liabilities are a red herring since if the government is prepared to sure up the scheme if it is part privatised then why not do that anyway? Remember Royal Mail took years of pension contribution holidays. The deficit means we now have to work longer and get less money.

Coming back to the Government. New Labour is not capable of learning anything. We have the situation were for example in Housing both the fascists and the Tories are making it a big issue to attack Labour. Housing associations are like businesses. Housing benefit is being used to pay £300 per week for nothing. The Royal Mail should settle with the CWU. Offer to work with people. Out of the 180 people I work with I don’t think anyone but me will vote labour except for those who live in my ward. We paid £3 trillion in bail outs for the Banks. Labour needs to win back those postal workers. What we need is just a regular job - that is all we are after. No short time workers. We have a seniority system that management hates.

The agreement on paper so far looks ok but doesn’t seem to be implemented by management. Labour needs to make its mind up if they are Tory Mark 2 or a social democrat party for working people. Everyone wants the same, a decent job and decent living conditions. I think unions should have done more to change the party and are as guilty as rest of them. We want our members to support a worker friendly Labour Party (finish).

There was a good Q&A afterwards and a few of us later continued the debate in the time honoured way in the nearby Weatherspoons.

(Please note usual health warning - people were speaking far faster than I can type)

The Soldiers - Coming Home

Despite my youthful good looks I’m not really that up-to-date with contemporary popular music. I was a student in Leeds during the early 80’s so you can guess my musical preferences. So until I looked at my RSS feeds tonight I knew nothing about this fine record and video - so hat-tip thingy to Mac Uaid who of course like most of his ilk just doesn’t get it (and they never will).

Debut single from The Soldiers available to download now with all proceeds going to the Army Benevolent Fund.

The album, also titled 'Coming Home' is out on Monday 26th October featuring the this single and 14 other moving tracks. A share of the proceeds are going to the Army Benevolent, Help For Heroes and The Royal British Legion.

Visit or find them on Facebook at to find out more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On the Knocker in West Beckton: Before Rain stopped Play

This morning West Ham Labour Party activists decided to ignore the awful weather forecasts and turn up for one of our regular CLP “On the Knocker” street canvasses.

Today we were in West Beckton which is part of Custom House Ward. I think that everyone was pleased with the good news about Ipsos MORI survey for the Observer poll (remember it’s the economy stupid that people will vote upon next May – we have the best policies and the Tories do not – the penny will eventually drop).

The picture left to right is of Alan Taylor, Cllr Conor McAuley, Alan Griffith (UNISON Labour Link branch officer), Cllr Patricia Holland, Dr Joe Ukemenam (UNISON Chair of the Voluntary Organisation branch) shows the calm before (literally) the storm.

Our MP Lyn Brown arrived shortly afterwards to help out. About 45 minutes after we started it simply started to pour and pour down. I think we got the sympathy vote from residents. However, the rain showed no sign of stopping and our canvass sheets were turning into pulp. We waited for a while before deciding that “rain stopped play”. Some of us then went off to do a bit of planning (and maybe just a tiny little bit of gossiping) over a coffee.

I had not canvassed this area before and before the washout was pleased to be in the team with local Councillor Patricia Holland. Pat has been a Party activist in the area for many years. She could remember the battles to get the local King George V Park and recreation area revitalised in 1977. She pointed out where there use to be a large London dock workers social and sports facility. This area includes the lovely Newham City Farm which we also walked past.

Before we were washed out the canvass seemed to go ok. I knocked on one door and the man who opened the door declared that he had never voted in his life (he was roughly my age – 29 ish and just a bit. I've had a hard life). All politicians he declared “say one thing and then do another”. However he then insisted on shaking my hand saying he was really pleased that we had taken the time to knock on his door to speak to him (so there is hope yet).

The rain however reinforces my view that political campaigning is a summer sport.

trade unions and transforming public services

This was the afternoon session on Day 2 of the UNISON Leadership school. The theme was on public service reform and how we should be responding to the challenge and securing the future. The speakers were Hilary Wainwright Research Director, New Politics Programme and Kenny Bell Deputy Regional Convenor Northern Region.

We discussed how UNISON Newcastle City branch successfully fought off an attempt to privatise Council services by their “Our City is Not for Sale” campaign. I saw Kenny and his branch give a presentation on this to UNISON conference earlier this year. We now made an attempt to explore the issues more closely and in depth.

Hilary has even helped write a book on the subject “Public Service Reform...But not as we know it”. The sub title of the book is “How Democracy can transform public services”. I briefly met her at a Labour Party Red Pepper fringe this year where she spoke about the topic. I did take notes but this is yet another post I have never quite got around to blogging. The book itself is staring at me from the book shelf with a pile of worthy others similarly unread. I will post a review as soon as I can.

The campaign itself could be seen as a model for other branches to follow when faced with the threat of outsourcing of public services especially in commissioning and procurement. The campaign itself had three strands - Industrial, Political and Public. The branch organised itself from top to bottom. There were regular meetings and consultation with all members and stewards. Everyone knew what was happening, what they needed to do and what was being done and why. The core principals were no compulsory redundancies and no outsourcing. Hilary argued that democratically provided public services are inherently better than those provided by the private sector. Industrial democracy is also key to providing quality public services.

The key leadership principal that I picked up (Kenny made it clear that he thought it was all done collectively but I think he is being modest) that public servants are also consumers of public services. We all want high quality and efficient services. We are not luddites and realise that you cannot argue forever for the status quo. However we believe in public services being provided by publicly accountable organisations. Newcastle City branch by campaigning, lobbying, involving the public, researching and taking well organised industrial action - they were able to defeat the proposed outsourcing.

Afterwards we broke into work groups to discuss how far we can use this Newcastle model in our branches and regions. Then we did more Group project work and in the evening there was a film on the Enron fraud.

Human rights lawsuits against companies

This looks interesting. Circulated by TUC.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is pleased to invite you to an event featuring leading human rights lawyers: Martyn Day (UK) & Paul Hoffman (US). Both have brought landmark lawsuits against companies. They will be speaking on the same stage for the first time, and fielding questions from the audience.
Martyn and Paul will share:
• highlights of past cases;
• inside view of current cases;
• comments on what more should be done to hold companies accountable under law; and
• what they would say to companies wishing to avoid such lawsuits.
This event is not only for lawyers – it is equally for those from NGOs, business, government, media, investment firms, academia, etc – for anyone with an interest in human rights.
Martyn Day has brought human rights lawsuits against a number of companies...

Please RSVP to Joe Westby:; phone +44 20 7636-7774. Please forward this invitation to others who may wish to attend – they should contact Joe Westby to reserve a space.

Time: Thursday 3 December 2009
6:00pm Arrival
6:15-7:45pm Presentations – Questions & answers
Followed by reception (light refreshments -- Friends House does not allow alcohol on the premises)

Place: Friends House (Large Hall), 173-177 Euston Road (opposite Euston Station), London NW1 2BJ
Nearest underground stations are Euston and Euston Square. King’s Cross underground and St Pancras International Terminus are a 10-minute walk.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Iranian Unions call for support for jailed Sugar Cane Activists

Being a trade union activist in modern day Britain can be pretty tough at times.

But when you compare what is happening to trade unionists in countries such as Iran, where they are routinely jailed and flogged, by a state that also openly murders opponents, then frankly we have to step back a little and think about how we can support and show solidarity with those who face a noose around their neck rather than a final written warning.

It doesn’t help that people who should know better are paid apologists for the Iranian religious dictatorship and their wanton killing of demonstrators and the public executions of children.

Check out Kargaran and do as much as we can for trade unionists in Iran as we do for those in peril in other countries.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sometimes you have to say "this is just crap and you know it”.

Plain speaking Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health & Safety Executive tells it as it is. This was in response to a question from a trade union safety rep at today’s joint SERTUC/HSE safety conference The Healthy Workplace”.

The rep asked what he should do when he gets fobbed off by managers with silly arguments and excuses. Ms Hackett thought that the excuses sounded like a “rich trapeze of rubbish” then suggested using the C**P argument.

I don’t remember reading this negotiating advice in any HSE pamphlets or even during my TUC safety courses? As branch health & safety officer I hesitate to recommend this to UNISON safety reps but I suppose since this advice is from the Chair of the H-S-E! So who am I to differ? (this is a Joke, repeat Joke)

The conference was very good. The emphasis was on preventing work related ill health and promoting well being rather than traditional safety issues. Dealing with health issues is usually more complex than safety.

The day kicked off with a speech by the SERTUC regional Secretary Megan Dobney. Megan pointed that even in a recession you do not cut health & safety. Also the widespread disappointment that there was no mention in recent Queen’s speech about asbestos and plural plaques.

Next was Judith (2nd from left) who talked about the new HSE strategy and 3 key issues. 1. The importance of enforcement action to achieve justice. 2. All HSE leaflets are now available for free on the internet and 3. Safety campaigning - especially on asbestos. There are 2 million suffering from work related ill health. Apart from the suffering and emotional pain the business case for dealing with this is compelling. Prevention is better than dealing with it afterwards. Health more important than safety. Need to raise our game on health.

Ed Sweeney the Chair of ACAS was the next main speaker (on right). A healthy workplace has good communication and consultation; equality and dignity; good relations with trade union reps and their organisations. It is useless having excellent procedures and policies if they are not implemented. Or Managers not trained or supported on how to properly implement. He stressed the importance of good line management and importance of employee engagement. The role of the rep is an advocacy, influencing, supporting, training and development role in providing good working places for people in the UK (and the rest).

In the Q&A my former TUC Occupational H&S course (1999-2000) colleague Phil Hood asked about the risk to existing safety regulations if the Tories are elected. A Tory think tank is proposing that if a company carries out an “independent” inspection then HSE inspectors will be barred from inspecting them. Ms Hackitt said that companies complain that the HSE doesn’t carry out enough inspections! She pointed out that she came from a chemical engineering and business background and believes the role of safety reps is vital and it would be fundamentally wrong to prevent enforcement.

My question to her was about what the HSE can do about the rogue consultants who just sell businesses (especially SME) unsuitable off the shelf; one size fits all safety policies which are not consulted upon with workers never mind safety reps? Judith agreed that she had been astonished when she took up her present post that there is no legal regulation of those who call themselves safety advisors. She thought it was not a HSE responsibility but agreed that companies are spending thousands and being ripped off. She thought that the IOSH and the other safety professional organisations need to sort things out and there needs to be a way to discipline such rogue consultants. She pointed out that she had a degree in engineering but was not deemed competent in her field until she had proven herself at work.

The blacklisted and disgracefully victimised construction safety rep Dave Smith (my former TUC tutor) asked Judith why when he was sacked from job after job, because of his blacklisting and safety rep duties, he would contact the HSE for advice only to be told that this was an industrial relations matter, not a safety matter and they were unable to help. Judith confirmed that blacklisting because you were a safety rep was indeed a matter for the HSE. She apologised if wrong advice had been given in the past. She pointed out the (unspecified) action that the HSE had taken against the North Sea offshore energy rigs companies who had “deemed” certain union safety reps NRB (not required back).

Which raised more questions than answers but I feel that most of us (IMO) felt that Ms Hackitt would have a very sharp (and unprintable?) opinion of companies or organisations who in the future victimise or blacklist safety reps.

This was the morning session. I will hopefully soon post on the afternoon which was also really useful. But I’m just a little behind on a number of posts at the mo.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Another one bites the dust: Jane Loftus, President of the CWU defies and resigns from SWP

Socialist disunity reports here "As I understand it, Jane Loftus, President of the CWU, and the SWP’s most highly placed trade union militant has resigned from the organisation, according to my source:

Announced at Brent postal workers’ support group last night that, asked to choose between keeping her union position or making a self-criticism of her recent vote for the “interim agreement”, Jane Loftus has decided to leave the SWP.

Don’t people know that the SWP demand that all their activists follow the party line rather that the interests of their trade union members? See here "Party decisions are binding on all, especially the CC and comrades playing leading roles in the struggle” (unions, united front’s etc).

How on earth can anyone be an independent trade union leader and a member of the SWP?

hat-tip Col Roi.

Anti-Bullying Week

This is a little late but just to point out that this week (16th to 20th November) is the UK Anti-Bullying Week. It’s not just about kids at school but bullying at work is a huge problem and unchecked can destroy peoples lives. IMO effective trade union representation is the best way to deal with bullying at work but far, far too many workers think they can rely upon employment law to protect them. People sometimes get the impression from reading the tabloid trash that you gets loads of money if your manager forgets to say hello to you in the morning! In practice this is simply not true and the overwhelming majority of serious bullying and harassment tribunal cases fail. Even if you win - often the awards are incredibly low.

Check out the ACAS site here and worksmart website to find out which union you should join (obviously it goes without saying that you should choose UNISON if you work in public services).

TUC World Aids Day Seminar

1 December 2009 9.30–12.30 followed by buffet lunch
Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1

“I want to live my rights in the workplace”

This seminar will highlight and celebrate the role of trade unions in defending the interests and rights of affected colleagues and their communities and explore ways of further enhancing their achievements.
The event will bring together key players involved in workplace action, policy making and campaigning and focus on best practice in the workplace and
the challenges lying ahead.

09:30 Registration, coffee and tea
10:00 Lord Bill Morris Chair’s opening remarks
Kay Carberry, TUC Assistant General Secretary, welcome address
Mike Foster MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
International Development*
Dr Syed Asif Altaf, HIV-AIDS Co-ordinator, International Transport Federation
Zuzanna Gorska Global Co-ordinator on HIV-AIDS, International Trade Union Confederation
Daniel Owasu Boatey HIV/AIDS Co-ordinator, Ghana TUC
11.00 Questions from the floor
11:30 Panel discussion: Andy Harvey Education and training consultant;
Eleanor Briggs Assistant Director, Policy and Campaigns, National AIDS Trust;

Nick Sigler Head of International Relations, Unison;
Simon Dubbins Head of International Relations, Unite
12:25 Chair’s closing remarks
12.30 Seminar ends, followed by hot buffet lunch

Please confirm your attendance to Tanya Warlock on 020 7467 1357 or
email: twarlockAT@tucDOTorgDOTuk If you have any particular access needs please
inform Tanya by 16 November. *to be confirmed

Hat-tip SERTUC

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fighters and Believers - Queens Speech PPB

I've just seen this live on ITV1. It's an excellent Party Political Broadcast. I saw the original version at this year's Labour Party conference. I must admit that I prefer that one. The music in the original version here is more haunting and soulful. There is also a greater emphasis on Party history as well. I suppose the audience and the message is different. By co-incidence I was listening to a Radio 4 documentary today about the European space agency and they had the same background music.

The speech itself and the debate afterwards was I think was very successful. I was pleased about the commitments on equality for agency workers, the End Child poverty commitment, the Equality Bill, Financial Services Bill (nothing mind on shareholders governance) and the Personal Care at Home Bill.

BTW - check out the GMB report on the Privileged background of Conservative Candidates here

Tory candidates standing in the General Election are still wholly unrepresentative of the UK workforce new study from the GMB general union shows. The vast majority - 96% of candidates are still from the top three occupational groups according to an analysis of the 537 candidates and existing MP selected to stand. Of the selected candidates no less than 63 are drawn from the banking and finance industries.

Less than 1% are from the six lower occupational groups employing 56% of the UK workforce

Tories still dominated by unrepresentative toffs it seems? Hat-tip thingy unionreps.

...and this report in The Times about the private medical clinic suspended from their contract by the London NHS after two deaths. Hat-tip Col. Roi.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Lollypop Lady" Louise to run against BNP Barnbrook

UNISON London NEC member (and local School Crossing Officer) Louise Couling, is to stand against the fascist BNP Councillor and London Assembly member, Richard Barnbrook in next year’s local council elections in Barking and Dagenham East London.

At this morning’s London UNISON regional committee it was announced that Louise the no nonsense east end grandmother and committed anti-fascist will be one of 3 Labour Party candidates in the Goresbrook Ward who are standing against Barnbrook and his fellow (IMO) Hitler worshiping cultists. Louise describes herself as an ordinary working class trade unionist who fiercely represents her predominately low paid women members. She is also a super proud true Brit who hates fascism.

At the meeting Louise called for support from all parts of UNISON in the upcoming battle in all those communities who are facing the scourge of fascism. I’ll post details soon on how you can help Louise, the local Labour Party or the non partisan anti-fascist “Hope Not Hate”.

Despite some members of the committee not being, let us just say "over fond" of Labour the overwhelming majority were really pleased and wholly supportive that a leading London UNISON female activist was directly taking on the fascists.

It was a shame but also somewhat amusing that while we were trying to be positive and inclusive the East Sussex member of the committee who should have known better, decided to launch an ultra left sectarian and divisive rant about New Labour being the real cause of BNP in East London. To which I heard one person quip none too seriously under their breath “this is the first time I’ve ever heard the Barking and Dagenham Party described as “New Labour”.

Picture of our Louise (hint, hint - the one in the bright yellow with our General Secretary Dave Prentis).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Housing Matters 16 November 2009

I am sure that many folk have been left bereft at the lack of Housing Matters posts during the last few weeks but apologies I have been a bit busy. A pity since there has been some interesting housing stuff going on recently.

Why did the most highly paid Housing Association boss ever - John Belcher - leave Anchor Trust?
Inside Housing speculates here on the reasons why the £391,000 per year CEO left in the same year that the Trust posted a £35 million loss. I’m intrigued that there are rumours that the going rate for an early bath CEO is a year’s pay upfront (no Schedule One problem with that it appears while with more junior staff earning far, far less it is often a different story). Is it anything to do with the anti-trade union decision by Anchor to de-recognise Unite as its trade union last year? I see that the relatively new Chair of the Anchor Board is Aman Dalvi the Head of Regeneration and Planning at Tower Hamlets Council. Maybe it was something to do with Hyde HA CEO David Eastgate at this year's Labour Party conference comment here about excessive CEO pay? There are “several highly paid outliers” but “don’t tar us all with the same bush”.

Chickens live better than Children
Roof Magazine
here reports on the campaign by Shelter to update the 1935 definition of overcrowding. Suggesting that MP’s have more concern about the living conditions for factory chickens than children living in overcrowded homes. Applying these standards and actually explaining them to residents is at best completely embarrassing to any housing officer never mind the resulting personal misery of overcrowding for our tenants. Unfortunately Shelter have joined forces with London arch Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson who thinks that the fairer taxation that would be needed if you were actually serious about ending overcrowding is comparable to Stalinist mass murder. Hmmm.

Housing Associations to float on Stock Market
I have no doubt that this story will go up and down in line with the likely expectations of a Tory Government next year.

A Million Voices for a Million Homes
On Wednesday at the House of Commons there was the launch of UNISON/Apse report into the rebirth of Council Housing. This is part of the UNISON Million Voices Campaign.

FED attacks rents cuts
The National Housing Federation not unsurprisingly attacks the decision by the Government for them to cut rents in line with the latest deflation figures. This is a serious issue for many Housing associations but I am still trying to remember exactly what was the attitude of the FED to the abnormal inflation figure of 5% last September?

What would the founders of the Housing Association movement think of such a headline? Just a thought.

(picture taken in a West Ham Newham Homes estate during a summer evening while fighting the good fight)

Stop talking, start doing!

The key message given by Bob Oram NEC member North West at last week's leadership school in respect of organising was "Stop talking, start doing! Everyone now says we are an organising union, yet what does that mean? If we were not about organising in the first place then what are we about?” ...

Check out UNISONactive take on the recent leadership course here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

UNISON Leadership School Day 2 AM

I’ve posted here; here and here so far on issues relating to last week’s UNISON course in Stoke Rochford. I’ll try and post over the next week or so about what the rest of the course and what ideas and lessons I feel are important to the trade union movement.

I will also “attempt” to assess and think about how I try to organise in my workplace and my branch.

Obviously a public blog isn’t the place for a warts and all analysis but I think that there are some useful lessons that I have learnt which I can share. The usual health warning applies about this being my own subjective interpretation of what was going on. The course was very much a pilot and a learning experience for the union as well. Also it was very intensive and pretty knackering and some of my hastily typed notes may be misleading.

The Monday evening we had a team “Quiz night” on current affairs, politics, history, films and music etc. This was a good team building exercise. A positive feature about the course was that we were constantly split into new and different work groups. Our team did not win – we felt of course we were robbed of victory by very hard marking. It didn’t help that the other teams knew more of the answers.

The Tuesday morning activity was firstly about reflecting on ideas about leadership and applying them to our own work context. Then about applying the leadership theories we had learnt about the previous day to an “organising union” (IMO all activists in unions are leaders whether they like it or not). We were asked to reflect on what approaches to leadership do we see the most and what approach we would like to see develop – in others and around us and how to use this week to help achieve it.

I hold various positions in the union but with regards to my union role with my employer at this stage I concluded that the most common leadership model in our union is transactional. To face the current and future challenges our leaders needs to be more transformational. This has to be subject to collective and shared responsibility at all levels. Personally I need to communicate (talk) more face to face with members and potential members, delegate more, spend more time recruiting members, local contacts and reps while supporting existing reps. Collective action is difficult since we have a very complicated Group structure and members spread over dozens of different workplaces in a very wide geographical area. But we are getting there. All this is hardly rocket science but spending time thinking, discussing and sharing ideas with other experienced colleagues who are outside your own box about such strategic themes is one of the key positive experiences of this course. At the workplace you are constantly fire-fighting and find it difficult to find time to stop and think.

In the morning we were also allocated into project groups and tasked to develop a proposal or resource to help in promoting leadership in UNISON. We had to present our ideas to the rest of the course on the Friday morning during the final session. We also had useful a self assessment leadership questionnaire to fill out.

In the afternoon we had an enlightening presentation on “Trade Unions and transforming public services” which I will post about soon-ish.

(Course picture with our General Secretary Dave Prentis)

The West Ham Pals

This is just a great local history blog about the “West Ham Pals”.

One of the reasons why the First World War was so traumatic an event to British society was that so many of the new infantry Battalions formed to fight in the trenches were the so called “Pals Battalions”. Where men could serve with local friends, neighbours or workers.

The West Ham Pals were officially the 13th Battalion of the Essex Regiment.

Unofficially they were West Ham football team supporters who joined up en mass with their mates and whose battle cry (and bayonet charge) was “Up the Irons”.

The Battalion fought in some of the worse battles in the War and suffered in total 37,404 causalities killed, wounded or missing. The impact of all these deaths and casualties in battle on the local community was therefore immense.

Hat-tip thingy Newham Recorder.

SWP Witch hunt II “I was expelled from the Socialist Workers Party today...…”

Check out this post from a now former member of the SWP, Alex Snowden, who yesterday was expelled after 17 years membership from the sect because of his support for the John Rees “Left Platform” within the SWP. Two other members of this faction have also been suspended. I helpfully posted previously on this here.

I do wonder of course who was the SWP thug that Alex complains had an “extremely hostile attitude to me and conducted discussion in an unpleasant and personalised manner” and “The situation was made worse in September when the individual most responsible for the personal vilification, and suppression of debate, was appointed full-time district organiser”. I think we should be told.

Of course Alex is as daft a brush to have been in the SWP for so long. He was only 14 when he joined which probably explains things. I will try and link this post to his site and ask comradely whether or not he wants any help in a “SWP Witch hunt defend the Three Campaign”. If so I’m his man...

Alex is of course is relatively very lucky – main picture is of an early SWP disputes committee leader dishing out punishment to those who oppose the CC.

Hat-tip thingy Tynesider

Friday, November 13, 2009

“the message for the General Election is clear: Game on”

It was great waking up this morning to hear the by-election result in Glasgow North East. Given the national polls and economic difficulties this was a stunning victory for Labour.

The New Labour MP (in the literal sense of the word) Willie Bain described it as a “fantastic victory for Gordon Brown and Labour”. Willie also put the success down to voter’s memories of the “Last Tory recession”.

Which I am certain is very true. We need to keep the faith for 2010. Despite our frustration and disappointments with the Party we know in our heart of hearts that there is no alternative for ordinary working people to Labour. Tonight on the 6pm news I saw Glasgow pensioners at a local community club tucking into a good (and no doubt healthy) meal while describing why they remain loyal to Labour. To them it is still the only Party for working men and woman.

While I suspect that the recent completely vile and despicable behaviour of The Sun Newspaper” somewhat helped contribute to the Labour victory. I do think that this triumph was in part due to the “it’s the economy stupid” prospective. While there was a mistaken pandering in the past by Labour to neo-liberal Economic arguments which are now clearly the main cause of this current recession (thankfully we did not deregulate as much as the Tories wanted); the Tories are ideologically opposed to the Labour Government measures to save jobs and protect people from the recession while also fundamentally opposing the expansionary financial measures needed to bring us out of the current mess. I think that people are beginning to recognise this. We need to roll this message out nationally.

This morning UNISON colleagues from Scotland I spoke to on our course were not only pleased with the result but also ecstatic that the BNP had lost their deposit. Glasgow North East has a very high number of asylum seekers in the constituency yet voters had rejected the politics of Nazi hate and discrimination.

BTW - There was the usual, dismal and utterly pointless performance by the various Heinz 57 trot lost deposit brigades.

What has UNISON ever done for us?

Light hearted sketch exploring how trade unions have shaped our work place. Hat-tip thingy.

UPDATE: this video was a part of a team project on this course

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11am Remembrance Day: Stoke Rochford Hall

Most of the teaching time spent on this UNISON course (see previous post) has been in the Library of Stoke Rochford Hall. During the 2nd world War the Hall was the headquarters of the second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. On the floor of this Library the maps and plans were laid out for the ill fated “Arnhem” Campaign in 1944.

This morning while out for a run in the surrounding park land I came across a tree planted in remembrance to the Canadian crew of a British Lancaster Bomber “which crashed nearby" killing them all on 28 April (now Workers Memorial Day) 1945. Just days before the end of the 2nd World War in Europe.

The Course agreed this morning to have a few minutes silence at 11am to remember all those who gave their lives for freedom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Million Voices for a Million Affordable Homes: New UNISON/APSE Report

Due to being at the Stoke Rochford I am going to miss tomorrow evenings UNISON/ASPE launch at the House of Commons of a joint report into the capacity of Councils to begin to build new homes.

Our General Secretary Dave Prentis will be there with Housing Minister John Healey to respond to the report then there will be a Q&A led from Heather Wakefield, Head of Local Government, UNISON, Kelvin Hopkins MP and Judy Mallaber MP.

Other Labour MP’s are expected to attend. As soon as I get a copy of the report I will post on it.

UNISON’s “Million Voices” campaign includes a housing component – a million voices for a million affordable homes (see main picture - double click to read).

(John Healey has recently confirmed that he will be attending a future meeting of UNISON Housing Association branch Labour Link members at the House of Commons: date to be arranged).

UNISON Leadership School: Stoke Rochford 2009

This week I am taking part in the UNISON Leadership School course which is taking place in Stoke Rochford, Grantham.

There are about 50 of us participating in the course. Lay activists from all over the union as well as UNISON employed staff (regional and Head office). This is the first such course ever run by UNISON (and I have not heard of any other union in the UK running anything similar). It is being delivered by (enthusiastic) UNISON national learning and organising team with the help of NEC members. I think this is a hugely positive and forward thinking initiative by UNISON..

So far there has been a mixture of presentations followed by discussions in small working groups. Our first speaker yesterday was Helen Black the Regional Secretary for East Midlands. She explained the economic and political context; national trade union trends and what lies in the future. One quotation she referred to was “The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor determines the success or failure of an organisation” Fiedler and Charmers.

Since then we have been grappling with different explanations and methods of leadership. Transformational, transactional, intuitive or shared/collective. The course is also being accredited by Ruskin College (to level 3 and 4).

Stoke Rochford itself is an old manor house owned by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and used as a education and training centre. It is set in a stunningly beautiful countryside location.

On Thursday Ed Miliband MP is also coming to speak to us. If I get the time I’ll try and post further updates.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Construction Safety Conference & AGM

SERTUC Question Time - 24 November 2009

In these modern progressive times where we are moving towards globalisation do unions still serve a purpose? What specific purpose do they serve?


• Trevor Sterling (Chair – Thompsons Solicitors)
• Fraser James (Actor)
• Glenroy Watson (RMT)
• Karen Jennings (National Secretary for Health, UNISON)
• Linda Perks (Regional Secretary Greater London, UNISON & SERTUC Executive Committee)
• Rosemary Laryea (Presenter, Colourful Radio)
• Sam Gurney (Policy Officer, International Department, TUC)

(click on picture to bring up further details)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hayes & Harlington - WW1 Roll of Honour

Silvertown Remembrance March & Service: Abide with me

Today there were 4 Remembrance Services in Newham. This year I went to the Royal British Legion (North Woolwich & Silvertown Branch) Service. There was a march from the Legion club in Constance Street E16 starting off promptly at 10.30am.

At the head of the possession was a Pipe and Drums band and bringing up the rear a London Fire Brigade engine. As well Royal Legion veterans, supporters and ordinary members of the public there were serving soldiers from the Rifles, a Royal Marine and representatives from all the emergency services.

Councillor Amarjit Singh was there in his role as Chair of the Council. I walked with local Royal Docks ward Councillors Patrick Murphy, Stephen Brayshaw and Anthony McAlmont. I estimated that there were about 150 people in the procession. We marched to the St Marks War Memorial in Factory Road. This is in the grounds of what is now the Brick Lane Musical Hall.

There was an outdoor service and luckily the weather held out for us. The first hymn was one of my favourites (even though I clearly did not know all the words) “Abide with me”. Then we had prayers and the "Last Post” before the two minute silence at 11am. After Reveille there were poems read out followed by the laying of wreaths. The final hymn was “O God in Ages Past” then the National Anthem and a blessing. Next was was coffee and cakes (treacle tart!) inside the Musical Hall (which I have not been to before – but must return to see the show).

I enjoyed the sight of elderly veterans shaking hands and talking to the present day soldiers and marines. Over coffee I was speaking to one man who could remember as a local child listening to Doodlebugs (German V1 rockets) flying overhead then their engines cutting out and the rocket falling down and exploding. Outside I was asked to take a photograph of a family in front of the memorial. Their great-grandfather was one of the servicemen named on it.

Despite the weather the attendance this year was apparently much larger than in previous years which I think is for fairly obvious reasons. After a little while we formed up again and marched to the footbridge where we “fell out” and were invited to come back to the Legion Clubhouse.

On my way home I stopped off at the local Fire station and took a photo of the plaque remembering the firemen and their families who were killed in the nearby Silvertown explosion in 1917. An unsafe wartime factory producing TNT high explosives blew up and flattened the local area killing 73 and injured over 400.

My usual favourite memory of today was during the two minute silence when in this solemn and very serious time we all paid our respects in our different ways all you could hear was the lovely sounds of a little innocent baby happily cooing and babbling away in the arms of a no doubt slightly embarrassed Mum.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Green Street Labour Party Stall – Free School Meals 4 Newham Kids

Picture is from today’s West Ham Labour Party stall in Green Street, E7. Our local MP Lyn Brown (left of pic) is shown with local Party activists.

We were handing out leaflets about the introduction of free school meals for all Newham Primary school children. This is a very welcome Labour Government and Newham Council anti-poverty initiative that I think will make a real difference.

It’s not only just about important issues such as good nutrition and “healthy” meals. Some of our kids live in such dysfunctional families that they come to school without any breakfast never mind lunch. You cannot learn on an empty stomach. Also this is so, so important for hard pressed working parents bringing up kids while struggling to survive on low wages.

The campaign went down very well with local residents and shoppers. It is not that often in my experience that while on political street stalls passerbys queue up to ask for a leaflet! Many shoppers in Green Street live out of the borough and were asking when their local council will by doing the same (hint, hint to all those local Labour Parties about to hold manifesto meeting).

Overall I felt that the stall went very well concerning how so called “badly” the Party is supposed to be in the polls. People were pleased that we were out talking to them when there was no impending election. One man told me, apparently seriously, that he thought I looked like former USA president Bill Clinton! No comment.

While I was really pleased at the number of people of various faiths and backgrounds wearing British Legion “Remembrance” Poppies. We had lots of young British Asian kids very proudly showing off their Poppies to us while waiting for their Labour Party balloons.

It was all in all a lovely day.

Newham Fireworks Display and Wanstead Flats 2009 & 1940: Now and Then

This picture is not the best but it was very (repeat very) wet and a little windy last night at the Newham Council Free Firework display on Wanstead Flats.

The weather was pretty appalling but it did not stop many people from all over East London turning out to watch and enjoy the fireworks.

While I enjoyed the spectacle with everyone else the firework explosions and light flashes did make me think of this spot 64 years ago during the London Blitz. For then the “bangs” would have been very much for real.

In the first and 2nd World Wars Wanstead Flats was used to site heavy anti-aircraft guns to protect London and especially the docks from German aerial attack. Gun batteries on this site were even credited with helping bring down a Zeppelin. The Flats were also hit itself by enemy bombs and rockets.

However there is a time and place for everything and last night was about families having (soggy) fun together and enjoying the spectacle. Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday and this will be the time we remember more serious and sombre matters.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Rising from the East: Sunday 15th November 2009

A day to explore communities, culture and politics in London’s East End

11.00 Registration

Session 1: Rebels with a cause

11.30-12.10: East End Jewish anarchists before WW1 –

lessons for the 21st century (Ben Gidley)

12.15-12.55: Minnie Lansbury – feminist, socialist and rebel

Poplar Councillor (Janine Booth)

Lunch / Book signing by Bill Fishman, author of many books

on East End history and a Cable Street veteran

Session 2: The struggle for better lives

1.35-2.15: Self-help, solidarity and socialism: the Workers’

Circle (David Mazower)

2.20-3.00 Doctors and Politics in East London (John Eversley)

Break for refreshments

Session 3: Bengalis and the East End – a continuing story

3.15-3.55 The East India Company and the silencing of East

End histories (Georgie Wemyss)

4.00-4.40 Bengali politics in London's East End

(Ansar Ahmed Ullah)

Sunday 15th November

Toynbee Hall, 28 Commercial Street,

London E1 6LS

Entrance £5 (£3 concs). Places limited to 90.

Book in advance by sending a cheque/PO to “JSG” at:

JSG, BM 3725, London WC1N 3XX

Organised by the Jewish Socialists’ Group

Hat-tip thingy Stroppyblog

Sir Robin Wales: Forest Gate Labour meeting

Last night the two Labour Party wards (or branches) North & South Forest Gate took part in a little bit of an experiment. We merged both ward meetings and had as the guest speaker our Labour Mayor for Newham, Sir Robin Wales. Also we asked Party members to invite friends and neighbours (non Party members) to attend the meeting and listen to the Mayor and take part in the Q&A. It was all a little last minute but we had a good turnout of Party members and residents (about 32 I think) in Durning Hall, Forest Gate.

By-coincidence Durning Hall is right next door to the local Royal Mail sorting depot where I was planning to go with some members of Newham Labour Party TULO to show support for the CWU picket this morning (the strike was called off yesterday for further talks).

The presentation and Q&A lasted about an hour and a half. So this is only a summary of key issues and topics that Robin brought up. Also the usual health check that notes were made on my netbook and I am not a copy typist:-

The aim of the Council is to make Newham a place that people choose to stay, work and live. To have choice you need to have money. So we need to get people into work or better jobs. Need to improve not only economic capacity but personal capacity – aspiration and ambition. Robin thinks he and the local councillors are first and foremost community leaders representing the will of the people.

Need to ask local residents who want things such as subsidised housing from the Council - what can they offer back to the community in return?

He is worried about what might happen if the Tories win the next general election. Their plans are to regenerate estates by exporting the poor from the Tory boroughs into East London. They will use the Bankers crisis to make cuts.

There is now a much fairer allocations system for housing in Newham. There will be less queue jumping and more opportunities for local residents. We can’t continue mind to keep putting poor people into the same place. This just creates ghettos. We need the poor and the better off to live together.

Things are changing – Newham now has better than average ratings London ratings for resident satisfaction. There is a 0% increase in Council tax and the lowest rate in London.

Need to do much better in education but have amongst the best results for qualifications when weighted to allow for factors such as the high levels of poverty in parts of the borough.

The Mayor’s Employment Project – guaranteeing the long term unemployed that they will not be worse off if they take up a training course or job. Paid for by the Council.

The most important regeneration project in Newham is not the Olympics but the new retail and business centre next door “Stratford City”. This will have the biggest John Lewis outside the West End. We don’t want to make the mistake made with Canary Wharf which regenerated an area but created more jobs in Kingston than Tower Hamlets. It is agreed that public policy should be that East London wealth is brought up to the standard of the rest of London.

Free School dinners for all primary school children. This is criticised as being expensive but no kids should go hungry while at school trying to learn. Every child in Newham should be offered the chance to have and learn to play a musical instrument. Middle class kids have this opportunity - why not the working class kids? Free books also for all our children. Apparently the American County singer and Actress Dolly Parton is paying for half of this scheme!

Local Space” the housing organisation set up by the Council with no financial help from the government which has bought 1000 homes and rented them out. After 5 years some of these homes will be sold and the money ploughed back into housing.

Labour Beliefs – there are 9 community forums in Newham. Last year £12 million was devolved to the forums to decide how this money should be spent locally.

He wants every community hall on a Saturday to be full of kids learning to dance, to have a lunch club run by elders, an after school clubs and other facilities for older teenagers to keep them out of trouble. No one community or faith will be supported by the council to build their own centres. They should rent space in existing Council centres and mix with the local community.

Robin finished by urging Labour to attract new people especially the young to join the Party to continue to serve our community.

There was a number of questions at the end upon opportunities for women, more youth clubs for older kids, English language teaching, education, quality of local proposed redevelopment, Olympics, planning and licensing (too many fast food outlets and off licences).

This was a good experiment which worked and we had an interesting debate with many contributions from non Party members. I think this idea will be expanded across the borough.

It was a just little surreal at times since during this fairly serious political discourse it was of course Bonfire night and the sound of fireworks going off outside could be heard from time to time. As well as the singing and happy clapping of the local Gospel church who were holding a service in a room below us. It was very Newham!