s.On Wednesday evening the Labour Shadow Minister for Housing, Alison Seabeck MP, was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting ofUNISON Housing Association branch Labour Link. This took place in the House of Commons.
UNISON National Officer, Mike Short, spoke first about how some employers (not all) are using the "cuts" as an excuse to attack their own workers while others are trying to invent "creative" reasons to evade their responsibilities under TUPE transfers. Not only are jobs, pay and conditions under threat but also even union rights to organise and defend their members. We need to campaign, regionally and nationally, against government policy with local community groups. Win the argument with the public that we are not to blame for the deficit.
Alison Seabeck is of course a politician but also a widely respected housing expert, unlike her floundering ministerial opponent. She spoke for 10 minutes then rushed off and voted against the (awful) Tory Coalition "Health and Social Care" Bill before coming back to continue. The single most interesting thing (amongst many) that she said, in response to a question about what a future Labour Government would do over housing, was once in power, the housing crisis could be simply so profoundly bad that "we may have to do something radical..." and similar to the what was done "after the Second World War" do deal with the crisis.
Bring on that Labour Government!
There was a lively Q&A with Alison, members bringing up problems in the sector for workers and residents. I asked a question about low pay and the unacceptable level of top executive pay in our sector, using the example of the strike the previous day by UNISON members in the Scottish Charity "Quarriers" (who are facing up to 23% cuts in wages). I pointed to research in "The Spirit Level" that unequal societies are destructive for everyone and that the same principle would apply to unequal organisations. Alison was I think genuinely horrified at staff wages being cut. She also agreed that excessive pay for executives was wrong and that as a start, all such employers should publish the salaries of everyone in their organisation and this may shame them into doing something about it. She brought up the example of her own Constituency in Plymouth where the Tory City Council is trying to trying to cut the wages of its workforce and de-recognise UNISON, while its own Chief executive is paid huge amounts of money.
After the meeting, some of us went off to the Red Lion pub in Whitehall to continue to put the housing world to rights, where we met UNISON and TULO activists who had just come back from the candle vigil for the NHS. (Picture of Alison 5th from left)