Wednesday, October 31, 2012

London UNISON Regional Council: 31 October 2012

The meeting was not quorate but we heard our speakers. The first guest speaker was Nick Raynsford MP, Greenwich and Woolwich who spoke about proposed cuts and mergers to South London Healthcare.

The Tories are playing politics with local NHS services regardless of clinical merit. 

Head of UNISON local government Heather Wakefield spoke next on pay. We are opposing the 1% public sector pay limit, regional pay and attacks on facility time. We need to restore pay. Aim to have a Living Wage for everyone who works in public services. Outside London this is £7.20 per hour. Currently the lowest pay band in Local Government is £6.30 per hour. Which is barely over the minimum wage. Need to encourage our members to take up any benefits that they are entitled to claim.

There will in real terms have been a 15% pay cut in local authority pay by April 2013 due to the rising prices and the pay freeze. Heather went through the campaigning issues on pay, terms & conditions.

220,000 workers in Local Government and 50,000 in the National Health Service have so far lost their jobs. Members in work are obviously worried about their jobs. 

Then Roisin Wood from "Kick it Out" which use to be an anti racist but is now a "pro-equality" in all aspects of football campaigning group. There is only 7 of them and they are campaigners are not the regulator, the football players union nor the employer. The recent controversy involving the wearing of tee-shirts by some players has been "challenging" but not of their making. They hope this has now been sorted out!

Our Parliamentary report was from Jeremy Corbyn MP. Who spoke about changes to housing benefit forcing the social cleansing of poor people out of Islington and inner London. He had a 6 hour surgery last Friday mostly made up of private tenants who are being forced out of their homes. His belief that there will have to be caps and controls of private sector housing rents.  He reported on the the "media assassination" of London Metropolitan University over foreign students which has damaged the entire UK reputation for further education. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Only worry about your pension if there is another Russian Revolution...

I recently went to an "off the record" Chatham House rules debate on whether closed defined benefit pension schemes should invest in equities (shares) or not?

Now, I doubt very much that all that many people will share my keen interest in such matters, but if you currently contribute to a funded defined benefit pension scheme or if you have a frozen one from a previous employer then you should. 

This is your money, your "deferred pay" and unless you at least try and take an interest in it then who will you blame if it all goes horribly wrong? 

The argument goes something like this. Pension funds which are "closed" (for some reason it wasn't made clear in the debate but I assume it was funds that were closed to new members and future accrual of pension benefits by existing members) are concerned about the long term not the short term and that the strength of the employer "promise" to the scheme to fund it until it pays out all its obligations is more important than anything else. Such schemes can afford to hold illiquid assets which have attractive tax efficient returns with a low probability of risk. So why invest in risky, liquid and unstable equities? 

The alternative argument was that equities should be part of a mix of investments. Admittedly returns in equities in recent years have been appalling but "No means Never" and you should not throw the baby out with the bath water. UK Pensions PLC have massive pension shortfalls in funding liabilities and the only way to close this gap is the long term historic out performance from equity investments. Past performance is not guarantee of the future but the long term equity premium over bonds is an accepted market compensation for risk. 

Why this is important is that if the trustees of your pension scheme gets this equities and/or bonds decision wrong, then your scheme may end up in the tender mercies of the Government Pension Protecting Fund (PPF).  The PPF is a very good thing but most people would lose out financially if their pension had to be rescued by it. 

So the lesson is if you are in such a scheme then take an active interest in it and in the trustees that run it on your behalf. Read the stuff they send out to you, ask questions, take part in elections of member nominated trustees, turn up to any meetings and even consider standing yourself to be a trustee. Make sure that your scheme is run in the interests of the beneficiaries and not by any vested interests (and there are many). 

Apparently there is an argument that the only real danger to equities not out performing bonds is if the economy suffered from something completely dramatic as the Russian revolution of 1917. 

I hesitate to point out that next week is in fact the 95th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Storming of the Winter Places. I hope they will keep "Pleb Gate" locked up for this anniversary.

Update: I have just been reminded that the number one issue with closed schemes is that they cost far, far more to run when closed than if they were kept open. Pension funds need new blood, new contributors to stop them becoming mature and cash deficit. Millions of workers are simply being cheated and conned out of a decent retirement while employers are often being mislead and badly advised. While many DB schemes and Government regulations need to be updated they do not have to be closed. If they are closed then it is in the real long term interests of the workers and employers that they should be reopened. 

Starbucks the Tax Thieves and Ripped-Off Britain

Check out the web site "Ripped-Off Britons"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Re-elect Obama Video #Forward

Austerity: What next after #Oct20?

A rather intense (to be polite) picture of me speaking at Saturday's SERTUC Council meeting at Congress House. The New TUC GS Frances O'Grady had just made a cracking speech.

I was supporting the GLATUC motion on "Austerity".

"President, Council, John Gray UNISON speaking in favour of Motion 1. I will try and keep this short since much of what I wish to say has already been said. But "What next" after Oct 20 is the key issue for the Labour Movement. We must firstly continue to educate and inform our members in the Great Battle of Ideas over the Economic Alternative to Austerity.

Despite the magnificent march of last weekend, I am reminded of past reports by our own Regional secretary, Megan, to this Council and the comments you have just heard from Frances, that a majority of trade union members still think that "Austerity" is necessary, the "Cuts" are necessary and there is "No Alternative".  

While we can turn out many of our activists and their families on a Saturday to protest unless we can also persuade our rank and file members, their families and their friends that there is a different way to run our country, then we are simply not going to be able bring about change.

Council, the truth of the matter is that we have a huge job of work to do. We need to not only educate but to  organise and unionise. Especially in the private sector where 85% of the workforce are not only not in any union but many of them have simply no comprehension or understanding of unions. They are Thatchers Grandchildren.

Perhaps Council, one other practical way forward is to bring to peoples attention that there are already examples of successful countries such as Sweden or Norway which are run differently. Frances mentioned "The Spirit Level" research that everyone is better off in more equal societies. Where there is greater income equality, greater trade union density and greater worker involvement in the wider economy.

Arguably Council, there is already out there A Future That Works; and it is only a ferry ride across the North Sea. Council, please support this motion. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dan Hodges at West Ham CLP

West Ham Labour Party like many active CLPs prides itself on its political debates. We regularly invite controveral guest speakers to our General Management Committee meetings (GC) which are open to all members to attend.

At GC last week, our Political Education officer had arranged for Labour Blogger and Daily Telegraph columnist, Dan Hodges, to be our guest speaker. See Dan speaking in picture next to the "tweeting" minutes secretary Terry Paul and our Chair, Charlene McLean.

Dan, is let me say, quite a "controversial figure" in the Labour Movement. His mum is former Labour MP and Hollywood actress, Glenda Jackson. He has worked in the past for the Labour Party and the GMB. But he is widely derided as the "Blairite Cuckoo in the Miliband camp". He has been a ferocious critic of the Labour leader, Ed Miliband and a strong supporter of his brother David.

You can check out my twitter comments here (25 October) on his speech and the Q&A. Afterwards the usual suspects took Dan off to "The Goose" in Stratford Broadway to continue the debate.

Dan had made a number of valid points about how fragile the Labour lead in the polls and that we should not at all take victory for granted in any future election (he thinks that unless we change, and change our leader, we will lose). He was willing to take the mick out of himself and be polite and measured in his responses to fairly direct questions and comments.

Yet I think that most people felt he is just plain wrong in his views. I must admit that he reminded me of personable figures on the "ultra left" who you listen to while quietly thinking "Yes, but, no but, but this is nonsense". I don't think the right wing of our Party (and of course we have a right wing and there is nothing per se to be scared of that) understand that the world has changed since 2008 and that we will not achieve what we frankly all want in our society without radically changing the way we run our economy.

Update: apologies but of course Glenda is still a MP (thank you Alex Sobel) and Dan has tweeted that "nice blog" but he didn't say that unless we changed our Party leader we would lose. 

Ulting Walk along the River Chelmer then Boreham hills

Off message but before it gets too wet, cold, dark and miserable I thought I would post on a wonderful 8 mile walk last month.

The walk started near the 12th pilgrimage church, All Saints in Ulting.  Walk along farmland then alongside the River Chelmer and back through the village of Nousley. Stopping off at the "Sportsman Arms" for a little light refreshment.

Walk from the free site Essex Walks. I've posted more pictures on Facebook here. Click on picture to bring up detail.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Frances O'Grady at SERTUC Council

This morning I went to the Trade Union Congress Southern & Eastern Regional Council (SERTUC) as an UNISON delegate at Congress House.

Our keynote speaker was Frances O'Grady, the General Secretary (elect) of the TUC. This was the first time in living memory that any TUC GS had addressed our Council.

Despite being under the weather with a cold, Frances gave a cracking speech. Wide ranging, thought provoking, honest, passionate, but pragmatic.

I base this post on my tweets made during her speech with the usual disclaimer for thumb fumbling haste and any mistakes or omissions are my responsibility.

She firstly greeted us as "sisters, brothers and fellow plebs! SERTUC region is important since 26% of all trade union members live here. We need to act smart and inspire people. Work with different community groups. Even the Women's Institute. Our job is to turn opposition to Austerity into a mass movement and in the long term achieve a better, fairer society.

We must tackle growing income inequality. The top 10% are 500 times richer than the bottom 10%. While the City Spivs get massive bonuses the lowest paid have food banks. This in the 7th richest society in the world.

The "Spirit Level" book proves that such inequality is bad for everyone. We want tax justice. We want Starbucks, Amazon to pay their taxes.

We need a change in economic policy. Even the IMF, which is not known for being a left wing organisation, recognises that workers need to have money in order to buy things to create demand and jobs.

What we want is not only a transfer of wealth but a transfer of power. Why can't we have employee representatives on Company remuneration committees?

It is understandable, but we must be careful about the big danger from a decline in trust in politics. If people lose hope, it could be very bad for us and progressive politics. We have to be very careful about our language.

Any further mobilisation must be a demonstration of strength not weakness. We have to be clever and not burn out our members.

There are arguments that a general strike could be legal but this depends on European law and anyone with any experience of this, knows it takes years for these cases to be decided. Firstly we have to ask our affiliates if there is an appetite for action.  Also, if we have a general strike without a ballot, we have to be honest with people, that they could be dismissed if they take part. Union funds could also be sequested by Courts.  Any general strike cannot just be a public sector strike. It must be supported in the private sector.

Frances finished by making it clear that this is a weak coalition government and that there is widespread fear even in the middle classes, about such things as youth unemployment, housing shortage and the sharks such as Virgin, circling our NHS. If we go about it in the right way we can and will give this government a good kicking.  

(Check out my twitter account for 27th October for a fuller report of Council. I did speak on the Austerity motion which I will post upon separately) 

Corporate Tax-Dodging Causes Austerity #Boycott Starbucks

Companies such as Starbucks, Amazon.CON and Vodaphone seem to think that only the little people should pay taxes. Bite back little people. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Council Pensions, Mergers & the Infrastructure Cacophony

This morning I was surprised to hear Sir Merrick Cockell, Chair of the Local Government Association (and Leader of Kensington and Chelsea) say on the Today radio programme that he (personally) supports the merger of the £150 billion Local Authority Pension Scheme (LGPS) into 5 or so funds only. There are currently 101 different and separate LGPS funds.

He was being interviewed about a report from The Future Homes Commission  about the need for investment in residential property. He argued that to invest in such infrastructure you need massive scale. There are claims that this merger and investment could result in 300,000 more homes being built every year.

His comments are likely to be more than a little controversial in our sedate world of Council pensions. I am reminded of the bun fight in City Hall here between "merger-ists" and "merger deniers" and the epic battle earlier this month here between the "Wandsworth" Council bulldog and "Gentleman Jim" LPFA.

One side argues that if the schemes merge they will be big enough to invest in such infrastructure funds that will not only provide homes, a much needed boost to the economy but also increase returns and slash costs. The other says "rubbish", bigger doesn't mean better and small is often beautiful (and more democratic and responsive).

By coincidence on Wednesday evening I went to the Parliamentary launch of the report by the Smith Institute "local authority pension funds: investing for growth".  It makes a number of recommendations but broadly supports the idea of a "clearing house" and "pooled" LGPS funds to invest in social housing and infrastructure. Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) Chair Ian Greenwood made it clear at the meeting that the forum was "neutral" with regard to merger of its funds.

In the Q&A I made the point that the report itself didn't appear to address any significant beneficiary concerns and a major reason why pension funds can't already invest in social housing is that property fund managers don't want anything to do with "plebs" and only want to invest in shiny new shopping centres and warehouses. Comrade Michael Johnson threw his usual hand grenade into the proceedings by stating that the LGPS is an Empire run in the interests of the Empire rather than its beneficiaries.

Following this mornings report UNISON has quite rightly reminded everyone that the absolute legal duty of pension schemes is to act in the interests of its beneficiaries (not to make property developers rich).  While I am pretty sure that this does not mean that UNISON is necessarily opposed to such investment, those who propose it need to be damn sure that these investments benefit our members.

Out of the hundreds of organisations that are cited as contributing to the Future Homes report there appears to be no input whatsoever from those whose money it is being proposed should be put at risk?

Check my twitter account @grayee for more details on the "epic battle" (10 October) and Smith report (24 October).

Metropolitan Housing: Poverty Pay, Pay Offs and Predistribution


A series of cost-cutting proposals presented to UNISON by Metropolitan housing association have been firmly rejected by the union’s members.

Metropolitan are conducting a 90 day consultation on changes to the terms and conditions of its 887 staff who are employed as Care and Support workers. The proposals include the reduction of staff salaries by up to 40%; reducing the number of job roles from 44 to 4, introducing flexible contracts and reducing management and administration posts.

Controversially, a private consultant’s report presented to the Metropolitan Board in December 2011 recommended employing more low-paid, part time staff “who could supplement their income by claiming working tax credits”.

If implemented, the proposed salary cuts will slash the wages of front line staff to below that of the GLA’s recommended London Living Wage. Metropolitan’s 2011/12 Financial Statement revealed that the former chief executive, Bill Payne, received a record payout of £412,000 in 2011.

UNISON’s Housing Associations’ Branch Secretary, John Gray, commented: “The hypocrisy of Metropolitan’s position is absolutely staggering. It pays £412,000 to honour the employment contracts of a departing chief executive yet wants to rip up the contracts of hundreds of frontline staff in order to impose wage cuts of up to 40%”.

UNISON Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss stated: “our members at Metropolitan are very angry about this and rightly so. Unless the Board sees sense and reconsiders its proposals we are heading for a serious dispute.

For Further information or comment please contact:

UNISON Housing Associations Branch Secretary, John Gray
UNISON Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss or

Notes for Editors

1. Metropolitan manages 36,000 homes and provides housing and other services to 80,000 customers. In 2011/12 it made an operating surplus of £65.4M on a turnover of £244M.

2. Brian Johnson, formerly of Moat, has recently been appointed chief executive of Metropolitan.

3. UNISON’s Housing Association Branch represents 3,500 members in the Greater London Region and the South East.

The London Living Wage is designed to help people towards a minimum acceptable quality of life in our capital. It is calculated by the Greater London Authority and is currently £8.30

(This is from branch press release. I brought this matter up at our West Ham GC meeting last night with our MP Lyn Brown)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jack Dromey MP speaking to UNISON Housing Association Branch

Picture from Tuesday's meeting at the Palace of Westminster. Labour Shadow Housing Minster, Jack Dromey MP, entertained and educated, Housing Association trade union members at a UNISON branch Labour Link meeting.

Jack started off by talking about his early days as a trade union activist in the famous 1970's Grunwick dispute. Ironically he has recently worked with as a shadow minister one of the Police officers who arrested him on that picket line.

He made a firm commitment that a future Labour Government will make housing central stage. Previous Labour governments did good things but they did not build enough homes. In the 1930's construction helped get the country out of recession. 2 million people in this country depend on this industry for their livelihood. There is an alternative economic strategy to that of the Tory coalition. He wants Councils and Housing Associations to both build more.

Housing Associations must keep their social care function and not end up like most mutual building societies did in the 1990's. Need to not only build homes but communities.

There was a lively Q&A and Jack overstayed his slot by 40 minutes.  There were members from nearly 20 different Housing Associations from all over London and East England.  My Question was about the poor governance in many (not all) Housing Associations such as Metropolitan which while  cutting front line staff wages, is making huge pay offs for failure to its senior managers while at the same time planning to recruit part time not full time staff so the state will top up their wages. Jack came back that there was good and bad associations as there are good and bad Councils. Good governance is a key issue.

He asked everyone not to judge the Labour Party so much on what they say now but on what they will do when they are in power.

National UNISON Community & Voluntary Sector officers Simon Watson and Ravinder Gill (right of Jack) also spoke as did Greater London Regional officer for our sector, Colin Inniss (on left).

Photo from HAB Dancing Queen, Sarah Kilby

Update: Check my tweets of event @grayee and photos on Facebook here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Boycott Starbucks: Boycott Tax Evasion

Hat tip Support public services and don't let the condems destroy them. Check out post on Starbucks as tax cheat and state benefit spongers here.

Social Housing Pension Scheme guide and Seminar

UNISON and the other unions may have achieved success with the Local Government & NHS pensions but the battle continues in the Community and private sector.

UNISON pensions experts have issued a guide to protecting the Social Housing Pension Fund (Pensions Trust).  There is likely to be a major industrial dispute over plans by some employers to close their SHPS schemes.  This is totally unnecessary.

It is also running a seminar on November 15 at the UNISON centre in London.

All branches with Community members should have been invited to send delegates. It is imperative that they attend.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Housing Killer Key Facts

Hat tip to Red Brick website for this table of key facts on the housing crisis facing millions of people.   Well done to the Fed for getting housing as a lead news item. 486,000 extra who work now on housing benefit. An 86% rise in 3 years.

Letting Housing benefit "take the strain" is not an answer to the crisis. Instead of wasting £90 billion on subsidising high rents caused by lack of supply, why not invest even 25% of this money in new build and refurbishment. Increase supply, reduce rents, get people back in work and increasing economic demand. Joined up thinking?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

TUC #Oct20 March for A Future that Works

Another fantastic Labour Movement march and rally for an alternative economic policy,” A Future that Works”. 150,000 in central London and many more in Glasgow and Belfast. The weather held out for us. It was mild and balmy with lots of sunshine. A colourful, lively, noisy but peaceful protest against the wrecking of our economy by this one trick Tory Coalition of economic illiterates. 

I was in the main UNISON component near the front of the march, going to and fro from my Housing Association branch banner to the London regional one. In picture collage below you see UNISON comrades, my local Labour MP Lyn Brown with West Ham CLP; Newham folk gathering at Stratford Station, UNISON Regional Convener Gloria Hanson, Deputy Convener Conroy Lawrence, Regional Publicity Officer Lynn Bentley and NEC member Kim Silver. See also Labour Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves.

We all booed Starbucks and Vodafone shops we passed by as being tax cheats and thieves.  

I heard that the selfish idiots who shamed our movement at the end of the march last year with their pointless yobbery tried to infiltrate our march this year wearing masks and were told in no uncertain terms by rank and file activists “Oi, take your masks off your cowardly b*****ds” and the 0.001%ers were “persuaded” to go forth and multiply elsewhere.

The Rally at Hyde Park was better organised than last year. Great speeches from Ed Miliband and Dave Prentice. Afterwards London region UNISON retired to the ‘spoons at Marble Arch to celebrate the March. The pub was packed out with marchers and you could not move around without finding people to argue and debate about putting the world to rights. Some made more sense than others but this is really why we were all there.

We did not march for marching sake but to make the case for an alternative economic policy. Austerity does not work. Our National debt is growing and our economy is still tanking. We need a different way to run our country.

(I'll post more pictures of the march on Facebook tomorrow).

Friday, October 19, 2012

George Galloway and the Secret Policeman

Shock, Horror: George Galloway MP has been exposed for hiring as his personal Parliamentary Assistant, the wife of one of Scotland Yard's most senior Counter-terrorist Police Officers, Afiz Khan, who is a Detective Inspector with the elite SO15.

Galloway even gave his PA, Aisha Ali-Khan, the keys to his own London home. Apparently the happy couple had marital relations (or was that "carnal knowledge"?) in his home.

Despite declaring her relationship with DI Khan, Aisha has now been suspended by George who is planning to dismiss her. She apparently thinks that this is due to "Some men in Respect hated the fact that she was a non-hijab-wearing Muslim woman, she says. "The atmosphere around Respect was so hostile to women. I was seen as an outspoken, opinionated woman who had ideas, who made things happen, who organised events and the guys didn't like it at all."

She further complains she is being made out to be a tart "sleeping with random police officers".

Respect hostile to women??? Surely not! Especially since its one and only MP, the Gorgeous One, has such a progressive attitude to rape and abortion? Don't mention "window lickers" either.

Picture is one of George being caught out doing one of his many moonlighting jobs while pretending to be an MP. Is this another Guy Burgess? I think we should be told the truth about him and his Secret Policeman family.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Starbucks: UK Tax Cheats and State Benefit Spongers

I think that this picture sums up the disgust people have with thieving companies such as Starbucks who in the past 3 years have paid NOTHING in UK Corporation tax dispite £398 million tunrover when at the same time high Street rival Costa paid £15 million on similar sales.

Now Costa is not a perfect model of corporate governance but at least they do not blatantly cheat the government out of taxes or sponge
off the state.

I would love to know what Starbucks pay their staff because I bet that if any of their junior staff had a child, the state will have to top up their wages in family credit to keep them out of desperate poverty.

Not only does Starbuck rely on us mugs to pay for the services such as Police and Fire Brigade that allow them to run a business but they also fleece us by paying such rubbish wages to staff that families cannot survive without top ups paid largely by basic rate taxpayers.

Starbucks is not alone, Facebook and Amazon are also tax cheats and spongers from UK pensioners, schools and hospitals.

I've just had a quick look at the deeply unpleasant Tax Evaders alliance website to see if there is any "outrage" at this rip off of UK taxpayers but there is of course nothing. Their puppet masters have obviously told them to keep stum.

We desperately need a different way to run this country.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ham Park Village Residents & Make the Space a Place

This report is from what I thought was a pretty successful and constructive meeting tonight of Ham Park Village Residents Association at the Vicarage Lane Community Centre, E15.

Things in life never run that smoothly. There was two last minute scares about the meeting. Firstly, the centre thought it had been cancelled (it hadn't) then we were locked out since there was a problem with the key to open the centre but that was soon sorted out.

There were about 30 local residents present. Ham Park Village is to the west of the historic 1874 West Ham Park, which is the largest public park in Newham and run by a Charitable Trust funded by the City of London. There was a representative from the Park, the local Police Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) Sergeant and Newham Council officers, as well as my West Ham ward colleague, Cllr Ron Manley.
The first part of the meeting dealt with local Policing issues in our ward, the Park and the Ham Village area. The SNT reported that the ward was 11th out of the 20 Newham wards in terms of crime reports and had average reports of Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB). Despite being "average" there are a number of problems in the ward which impact on residents lives. Street drinkers, low level drug taking, prostitution and violence amongst young people. However, other statistics tell us that while there is problems it is still an area people like and want to stay and live.
There was some fiery questions to the Police and the West Ham Park representative but it was on the whole measured and reasoned yet at times passionate. There was a sort of general  agreement (apart from Park benches) at the end of this discussion and also a commitment to better tackle seasonable drink related ASB. 
The second part of the meeting was an excellent update and presentation by Newham Council officers. Firstly, on the proposed gates in (a small part) Aileen Walk which has gone out to public consultation. The money has been agreed and providing that the consultation is successful, it should go ahead!
Then the age old and controversial issue of "The Wall". Now, this is a low level wall in an unused green space in the village area which nobody quite knows why or when it was built. It serves no useful purpose and there is very significant amounts of ASB reported around "The Wall". The Council housing department own the land and while they have no current plans for it's use are prepared to lease it out to a Community Garden project. They may well want it back in the future to build on but have no plans at this moment and are willing to let it be used for a good purpose in the meanwhile.
So this plan is to encourage local residents to take responsibility for the area, get grants and permissions, then knock down the wall and build a Community Garden. To grow fruit, veg and roses. Very like the existing Newham Abbey Gardens and First Avenue Community Garden model. The presentation by various Council officers was very good and the idea was well received. Obviously there was issues and concerns raised but the overwhelming response was positive. We are hopefully at last doing something about "The Wall" and bringing together the local community.
This was a great meeting, I enjoyed it and learnt a lot as well. Many thanks to all involved. A Community Garden planning meeting will be held very soon. If anyone local wants to get involved they can email me for contact details of the Ham Village RA.
I did twitter during the meeting on hashtag #westhamlbn.

Join us on 20 October

New video and call for pledge to join or support the TUC March this Saturday 20 October.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TUC Pension Member Trustee Conference 2012

Today I finally booked a place here for this year's TUC trustee conference.

"Date Tue, 27 Nov 2012

Location Congress House, London WC1B 3LS

Cost - Unions: £50
- Educational, public or voluntary sector: £75
- Commercial and others: £250

The TUC invites pension trustees to the annual conference on Tuesday 27th November. The Conference will feature speakers from the pensions and wider financial and political world and will engage delegates with a range of technical and informative workshops.

Keynote speakers include:
- Pensions Minister Steve Webb MP
- Professor John Kay, author of the Kay Review of UK Equity Markets and long term decision making.
Contact for more information
Enquiries: Jennifer Mann 0207 467 1222, Email:
To register for this event please visit:

Monday, October 15, 2012

National Union Railworkers: West Ham Branch 1919

This is a great picture of the National Union of Railwaymen West Ham Branch strike committee
from 1919.

I wonder where it was taken and what the strike was over?  They appear to be wearing some sort of a


Hat tip Hayes Peoples History.

Update: Mike from HPH has emailed me to say that the picture is originally from The Newham Story.

He thinks that the rosettes had union badges in the centre, points out the man with the union sash and the marvellous motto on the banner "Comrades, Courage and Forward"

" Strike Committee

National Railway Strike, 1919. This is the Stratford District Central Strike Committe Executive of the National Union of Railwaymen.

Back Row: G. Blazeby, West Ham, Banner Captain; H. Bambridge, West Ham; W.G. Jupp, Stratford No.2; J. Miller, Forest Gate; C. Webster Stratford No. 2; J. Little, Stratford No.2; C.G. Collins, West Ham; J.L. Burchell, Forest Gate; G.A. Carter, Stratford No.2, Picket Captain.

Middle Row: C.J. Mann, Forest Gate; W.J. Roberts, Stratford No.2; Syd. Williams, West Ham, Secretary; A. Kelly, Stratford No.2, Chairman; Councillor Tom Kirk, West Ham, Organiser; F.C. Westfield, Stratford No. 2; R. Moore, Stratford No.2.

Front Row: P.A. Woods, Forest Gate, F.E. Mansfield, Stratford No.2; A Wright, West Ham; G. Bramley, Forest Gate."

The Spirit Level, Unions and an alternative economic policy

Check out my post here on the UnionHome blog that Austerity is the problem while trade unions and income equality can be the solution.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Labour Attack Dog Supports #tuc12 March

Well, picture is from yesterday's West Ham Labour Party and trade union stall in Stratford High Street  supporting next week's TUC March against Austerity and for an alternative economic policy.

Labour Attack dog, Yorkshire terrier Cara, is seen in arms of her owner, local MP Lyn Brown . Cara was certainly one of our chief assets on the stall. People were queueing up to give her a stroke and a cuddle. Any opposition faced being licked to death by Cara.

This gave us the opportunity to encourage Newham residents and trade union members who haven't so far made other arrangements to meet up next Saturday 20 October at 10am outside Stratford Station to travel down to the embankment to march together.

Check out why Newham residents and trade unionists are marching here and here


I've just submitted an article to the new UnionHome website launched recently. This is an offshoot of
Unions21. It's editor is Dan Whittle.  

"Since we launched UnionHome last week it's been visited over 1,000 times. Simon Sapper writing for the blog today, says 'UnionHome is great, but surely it's long overdue?'. Help us ensure we publish views from across the union movement by writing a blog for us. Reply to this email with your ideas.
New thinking from UnionHome you might have missed:

3. If it's Buy-In You Want, Forget the Shares-for-Rights Scheme - Michael Wheeler"

I would agree with Simon Sapper that UnionHome is long overdue. Good luck Dan and I hope it works.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lab12: Last post from Peoples Party Conference

Once again I ran out of time during the 2012 Labour Party Conference to write posts on the last two days. So here is a quick summary of some of the highlights during the last few days of Conference.

Clockwise. Due to disorganisation and meanness I stayed in a hotel in Rushholme which had the worse reviews on that I have ever seen. It wasn't that bad but one of the things that kept me fairly sane during Conference was a morning run around the fantastic City green lung Platt Fields Park (the Peoples Park).

Picture of Peoples Republic Newham Crew (and guests) in Midland Hotel bar stairs. Below Gerry Sutcliffe MP, speaking at the EU fringe for Azerbaijan (UK is the biggest investor) ; Ed Balls MP speaking to UNISON reception at the "Peoples History Museum". Ed admitted that he would have lost his seat at the last General election if not for the help of UNISON - "no doubt" and he pledged to never ignore anything that UNISON said but we would not always agree.

Then a very good and sharp fringe on ending poverty by Webb Memorial Trust (lost notes), another on pension auto enrollment with Labour Shadow minster Gregg McClymont sponsored by the Peoples Pension (lost notes); then picture of UNISON reception with Andy Burham MP and Rachel Reeves MP and final centre picture of the great leader with UNISON delegates Mike and Mandy. What a great natural relaxed smile Ed? We never knew!

Roll on Brighton 2013.

Greater London Regional Welfare Committee Sponsored Walk 2012

Great picture of a rain soaked London UNISON team raising money for our union welfare fund.

"This year, our main fundraising event was a sponsored walk in North London on Sunday 23 September.

With donations still rolling in, we hope to have raised at least £1000 for UNISON ‘There for you’ (Welfare).

A small but eager group of Welfare Committee members and their families, Regional staff and a very small but very enthusiastic dog, did "The Parkland Walk". The 4 ½ mile walkway follows the course of the railway line which used to run between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace in North London.

We had already postponed the walk from July, when flooding had been threatened, so we were not best pleased to arrive at Finsbury Park with a ‘hurricane’ having been forecast, though we made sure we had a plentiful supply of UNISON ponchos.

It wasn’t quite a hurricane, but the café at Alexandra Palace provided welcome respite at the end of the walk as we took it in turns to dry ourselves off in the rest rooms.

Thank you to everyone who took part and to everyone who donated" (Greta Farian, UNISON Regional Organiser and secretary to committee 3rd from left).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why we really, really need an alternative economic policy

At this week’s London UNISON Regional Committee instead of the normal bun fight with the ultra left we had a remarkably polite, thoughtful, honest and even good humoured debate on the state we are in and the possible ways to take forward the Union.

I think that in part this is due to how simply mind bogglingly awful it is at this time if you genuinely care about public services. The one “good” thing about this Tory led government is the almost general realisation that this is no time for pontificating and gesture politics.

Now, there was of course still some stuff that was a little bit daft but it was all rather half hearted and random. I think some folk are just beginning to realise that continuing to bang a sectarian head against the union sensible brick wall only hurts one way and achieves nothing.

We all want the TUC "Future that works" demo on 20 October to succeed but we are not just marching for marching sake. There must be an end game. This must be that by marching, we are furthering the argument for an alternative economic policy to austerity.

Austerity is not working, despite the great pain, our national debt is increasing and we need a plan B. The only solution to our economic nightmare is not only to increase demand and confidence by direct investment and growth but to create a more equal society.

Where the rich pay their fair share through truly progressive taxation and there is an effective public sector providing high quality and equitable services such as affordable housing, quality health services and child care (Spirit Level).

I’m cautiously optimistic that eventually the penny will drop but we need to start talking now to our members and have the confidence to argue that not only is there an alternative but what that alternative will be. Check out the TUC guide to “A Future that works” for some ideas.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

UNISON wins recognition ballot at First Wessex - 80% in favour of voluntary recognition agreement

Good news and well done to South East Region and First Wessex UNISON reps Tara Imber, Vicky Higgins, Wendy Lamont and Stuart Mills (See photo with Wendy and Stuart). Check out report here.

"UNISON national officer for the community and voluntary sector Simon Watson commented: "In recent years, a number of housing associations have misguidedly stopped talking to trade unions.

"This result shows that, when staff get the chance to talk to UNISON reps, they realise we are essential for defending the interests of housing workers."

I would agree with Simon and frankly I am amazed that any Housing Association or Voluntary organisation chooses not to recognise trade unions.

Saying they allow union reps to represent their members at individual formal meetings is not enough. This is an anti-trade union attitude and practice.

Not only are unions good for staff but they are also good for good employers. Only bad employers who have something to hide don't welcome trade unions.

I know for a fact that many Councillors (not only Labour) will privately refuse to have anything to do with organisations that do not recognise trade unions. Either as preferred partners or commissioners.
If an organisation doesn't recognise trade unions and denies workers their basic human rights to bargain with their employer then there is something fundamentally wrong with that organisation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Future that Works: Joint Newham Labour & Trade Unions leaflet

This is our Labour Party and Joint Trade Union leaflet that was handed out on Saturday in Stratford High Street and Green Street by local Labour Party and trade union activists.  This is in support of the TUC demonstration on Saturday 20 October in London which calls for an alternative economic policy to austerity.

Newham residents and trade unionists who have not made other arrangements to join the march should meet up at 10am on Saturday 20 October outside Stratford Station. Where you can join up with Newham Labour Party activists and others to travel down to the Embankment and march together. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"The Future of London Government" Newham Compass & Fabians

Tonight in West Ham FC Supporters club, Green Street (which is actually in East Ham) there was a debate led by London Assembly member, Val Shawcross with Emma Sweeney and Ted Flanagan from the new Queen's Park Parish Council in the London Borough Westminster.
The topic was "The Future of London Government" Chaired by Unmesh Desai, organised jointly by Newham Compass and Fabians. Follow my twitter feed at lbncompass
Val spoke first about how do we sustain and revitalise democracy in London? The Liberal Democrats have been discredited by dropping their core social beliefs in the unsuccessful pursuit of changes that would have benefited them politically (PR and reform of Lords), While the Tories pursue a culture of secrecy especially in the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.
We need to start a dialogue in the Labour Party about democratising and self government, look at the voluntary sector, social enterprises, mutuals and real local control of the NHS. Tories are about privatisation while we should be driving our democratic tentacles into private sector and promoting "responsible capitalism". This change should not be at the expense of workers terms and conditions.
Ted and Emma spoke about their experiences in Queens Park setting up a Parish Council in a mixed income ward in Westminster with houses worth a £million + and a 1960s Council estate with the worse child poverty rate in Europe. They got the idea from a journalist when their local forum had its funding cut in 2010. 68% of the ward voted to set up the Parish, which will receive around £45 per year from each household in the ward (collected by Westminster on top of Council tax). This will raise £180k per year which will be spent on extra community services and events as decided by the local elected parish councillors. Not replace existing borough services.
Like I think nearly everyone present I think this is a really interesting idea and needs following. I'm a little sceptical to be honest since I have seen all sorts of centralised then decentralised then recentralised community governance models in my time, come and go. Yet Ted and Emma seem very confident that this time it should be different.
In the Q&A I warned Val that while the Voluntary sector does many good things there are also appalling governance in many such organisations which needs addressing. I pointed out the Metropolitan Housing Robbery.  She accepted that far more needs to be done to improve the way that these organisations conduct themselves and we need to start a debate in the Labour Party on how to do this.

Monday, October 08, 2012

"Respect" purges dissenters

Two former National Council members of "Respect" have left the "Party" after being "purged" from their positions following criticisms of Gorgeous George over his recent comments about rape. The article explaining how and why they were purged was published today at 5.29pm on Socialist Unity and comments on the post was rapidly closed at 8.39pm.

Apparently because an administrator objected to some rather mild comments about GG as being an "anti-Galloway hate fest".... and the problem with that is???

Reminder: "The Future of London Government" Newham Compass & Fabians

Tuesday 9th October,  at West Ham Football Club Supporters' bar, Castle Street, at 7.30 pm.

Val Shawcross is a member of the GLA, and Susanna Rustin & Ted Flanagan were part of the team that successfully campaigned to set up the first Parish Council in London (in the City of Westminster!).

AMNT newsletter October 2012 - meeting review; Fair Pensions invitation; Pensions Regulator message

- Download the reports presented at our last meeting
- Invitation from Fair Pensions during Living Wage Week
- Message to you from the Regulator

Dear member,

Last month’s AMNT members’ meeting was a success, with informative presentations and discussions on the thorny issue of investment management fees.

The meeting began with an overview of recent association activity from the co-chairs, Janice Turner and Barry Parr.

Barry explained how our efforts to sign up sponsors has been progressing well, with a couple of companies already signed up and a few more well on the way. We hope to provide you with full details of these when they are confirmed.

We then heard from Janice how the AMNT’s campaign to promote smoothing of DB discount rates was going well, with national press coverage and positive feedback from the pensions minister, Steve Webb.
There was then a presentation by Hari Mann of the RSA, who has worked with David Pitt-Watson on an influential report looking at the lack of transparency within investment management charges and how this can be damaging to pension savers.
The paper can be downloaded by clicking here, and the RSA’s other publications can be accessed by clicking here. Committee member John Gray’s review of Hari’s talk can be found by clicking here.
This was followed by a talk by John Simmonds of CEM Benchmarking. The company undertakes research into investment fees paid by pension schemes. His presentation can by found by clicking here.
CEM has offered AMNT members the chance to take part in their ongoing research. Schemes that take part will be entitled to a free personalised report. An example of such a report can be found by clicking here.

As an example of the type of information CEM would require, an example survey questionnaire can be found by clicking here. For more information on how to take part, contact John Simmonds by emailing

Invitation from Fair Pensions

AMNT member Catherine Howarth, who is also chief executive of lobby group Fair Pensions, has sent the following invitation to members:

I would like to invite you to an event during Living Wage Week for pension trustees and other investors in FTSE 100 companies. The event, which is kindly hosted by Aviva Investors and in conjunction with the Living Wage Foundation, will mark 18 months since the launch of a collaborative investor initiative to promote Living Wage standards in the UK’s largest private companies.

The event will be an opportunity to hear from FTSE 100s that have become Living Wage employers as well as from a variety of investors who are supportive of the standards. It will be a chance to learn about the practicalities of implementation and about employer accreditation.

In May 2011, a £13bn coalition of institutional investors wrote jointly to the CEOs of the FTSE 100 inviting them to adopt Living Wage standards across their UK operations. Since then a productive dialogue between companies and their investors has developed on this topic, and a growing number of companies has either made progress towards Living Wage standards or has fully adopted and implemented them.

This event on November 5 will be part of Living Wage Week, which will see a range of events held across the country to celebrate the growing profile and uptake of Living Wage standards as a mark of organisational responsibility. The week begins on Monday morning with an announcement by Mayor Boris Johnson of the new London rate.

I very much hope that you will be able to join us. All members of the AMNT would be very welcome and it would be great to talk about whether you could notify people in the network. Please RSVP to Tom Scott (

Pensions Regulator record-keeping message

We have also been contacted by the Pensions Regulator, who have written the following message for members:

In 2010, The Pensions Regulator set specific targets regarding ‘common data’ – such as name, address and date of birth – and gave trustees until the end of 2012 to achieve this.
The targets required that of these common data items:
- 100% should be in place for member data created after the beginning of June 2010
- 95% should be in place for member data created before June 2010.
By now, the regulator expects schemes to have taken significant steps to meet these targets. These steps include measuring their scheme data, and having a corrective plan in place where that data is found to be poor. Scheme administrators are ready to work with trustees on this, and failing to take action may lead to a breach of internal control requirements.
More information on record-keeping is available on the regulator’s website, including regulatory guidance, online learning resources and a new checklist for trustees.
To learn more about how poor data and record-keeping can impact schemes, join regulator staff in a 45-minute webinar at 11am on Tuesday October 16.
Regulatory case and policy leaders Victoria Holmes and Louise Hallard will discuss the risks of poor data as well as what action trustees should take now.  Places on the webinar are limited, so register now to reserve your place.
You can get on the regulator’s website by clicking here. You can also register for the webinar by clicking here.
Kind regards, AMNT Committee

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Kemsing Walk: North Downs Way

Off message but a short post on a marvellous autumnal 6.5 mile walk today in the North Downs, Kent. It's been a while since I have been walking south of the river but if you live in East London it is probably the nearest decent hill walking area. The Blackwall tunnel is the chief problem but today it behaved itself both ways. Kent at its best is simply stunning and incredibly beautiful.

Most of the route follows the North Downs National Trail and the old Pilgrims way from Winchester to Canterbury.  It starts alongside the M26 but please give it the benefit of the doubt. I've added more photos on Facebook here.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Wake the F**K Up

Brilliant. Wake up everyone both sides of the pond. Please share link.

Labour Party & UNISON stall for TUC March Oct 20

Collage is from today's stall and leafleting session in Stratford High Street, Newham, East London. Members of the West Ham Labour Party and local trade unionists were encouraging the public to join the TUC March for "A Future that Works" on Saturday 20 October. There was a UNISON stall and also next door a stall with Unite Ford activists from Dagenham and the NUT.

We gave out 500 joint Newham Labour/trade union leaflets supporting the march and asking people to meet again outside Stratford Station at 10am on the 20th October for those who want to travel together to the march with local Labour Party, trade unionists and residents.

We had some interesting discussions at the stall. The reaction from people who realised what we were about was very positive. However, most people passed by politely refusing to accept a leaflet, badge or sticker. While I think that this type of activity is still very much worth while, we need to find another way to reach ordinary working people about "the message" in a busy sunny Saturday shopping centre.

The message is of course not only to go on the March if at all possible but also that Austerity is not working and we need an alternative economic policy. I tried chanting "What do we want, Keynesian, When do we want it, NOW" but it didn't really work apart from giving me a sore throat.

It was good for me as a UNISON NEC member to deal with enquires and comments, not only the good stuff from people wanting to join or thank the union for the help they have received but also those who want to complain about the way they felt they had been treated. Only two problems out of many compliments but things are simply so horrible out there at the workplace that we have to be humble at times that things can go wrong - as they will with a 1.3 million wide membership under attack.

Picture on top of collage is of "Battle of Cable Street" veteran Max Levitas who joined us last year as well to support the TUC March in March.

Middle is West Ham Labour Party members and Councillors supporting the TUC March. There was also a stall in Green Street today by East Ham CLP.

Bottom picture is Alan, Gavin and myself after we had returned the stall materials and table to the West Ham Labour Party HQ which has temporarily been taken over by the excellent "Newham Peoples Museum & Gallery".

Who also agreed to exhibit the UNISON Marching shoes placards as a symbol of modern day Newham peoples history. (hat tip picture Judith G).  

Friday, October 05, 2012

Outsourcing & Austerity: Civil Society & the Coalition Government"

Today I was a breakout session speaker at this conference in Congress House. I spoke alongside senior employment rights officer at the TUC, Hannah Reed. Our brief was "What is happening to the voluntary sector workforce".

I will post another time on the wider conference (which was very well organised). Below is my crib sheet for my session. I believe that notes taken of the whole conference will be published on line. Will update when get details.

Austerity & Outsourcing affects not only clients & users but also staff. There has been a “Race to the Gutter”. Cuts in SP funding and removal of ring fencing. Deliberately breaking and undermining of TUPE.

Means that many staff have had pay cut by up to 30%, increase in working week, cutting of leave, threat of redundancy and job insecurity.

Growth of agency workers/temporary contracts; bank/0 hour’s staff; tax cheating bogus self employment, greater use of “volunteers”.

Redundancies and recruitment freezes means increased case loads & greater workplace demands which leads to stress and the cutting of corners in providing services. 

We all know what happens when organisations serving vulnerable groups start cutting corners to cut costs.
There is a huge reputational risk to organisations and a potential discrediting of whole sector. Some organisations want to employ only part time workers not full time so they can claim state benefit top ups!

Wider content is the attack on employment protection for workers by the Coalition. The doubling of the time needed before you can claim unfair dismissal, charging upfront fees of over £1000 for ET, withdrawal of health and safety measures etc.

Need to understand why workers pay and conditions are relevant to the wider community, due to the local economic impact and that on the quality of service. Many experienced and trained care workers can get more money packing shelves in Tesco’s.

What we need to do?
All Unions want genuine Partnership with employers and Community groups/representative organisations. Discussions around sectorial agreements on quality, safeguarding and price. We want to work with like minded people who will say enough is enough – we cannot go below this level and provide decent services. Not just Trade union provider interest but we are citizens as well who rely on these services.
Workers and community activists can work together (both got inside knowledge, local campaigns).  Top and bottom approach.

Unions recognise that we have to get our act together as well. Never organised properly in the sector in past. UNISON now has a specific section for all Community & Voluntary. I am one of two elected NEC members. Setting up local branches specifically for C&V trade union members.
Trade union recognition. Need to get members to join. Cannot understand why some "reputable" organisations refuse to recognise trade unions? A blockage to working together. What have they got to hide?

Campaign/lobby together (openly or otherwise) the Government, Councils and Devolved nations. Especially Labour & progressive "one nation" elements (discuss). The unions don't yet punch their weight in our sector.
While there is a lot we can do change policies and occasional defeat the Coalition. (such as water down Health Bill and new look pensions LGPS 2014). There has to be bigger political issue. Educate our members and public that there is a credible alternative economic model to Austerity.  We need a plan B.

Increasing the pay of the low paid is one way of increasing demand and growth. While huge amounts of taxpayers’ money is being used not to pay off debt but subsidise poverty wages. 
We have a job of work to do with our members and public on this vital subject.