Saturday, February 28, 2015

UNISON National Community Seminar 2015: Day 2

Day 2 of the national seminar started off with more workshops and reporting back. Then after morning break the plenary session with West Midlands Regional Head of Community, Andrew Johnson, explaining in a lucid and comprehensive way the new Government regulations on  commissioning of health and social care services.

Now this is possibly not what most people want to hear on a Saturday morning but it is for Unison Branches who have members terms and conditions at risk from Commissioners, who think that you can provide quality care services to the vulnerable on the cheap.

After a question and answer session, my fellow Community Branch secretary, Chris Durnall, thanked Andrew for his years of service to the union since he will be retiring shortly. A nice touch I thought.

The seminar then finished and after lunch the Community National conference began.

Friday, February 27, 2015

UNISON National Community Seminar 2015

This afternoon was the start of the Unison National Seminar for Community (Housing Associations & Voluntary Sector) in Bradford.

Beforehand there was a meeting of delegates who work in community sectors. I went to the Housing Associations meeting. It was really useful to discuss common issues and experience with fellow workers from up and down the country.

Mathew Danaher from Unison organising unit talked to us about a exciting new union social media initiative.

The Seminar started off at 2.30pm and the first speaker was Shadow Labour Minister, Dan Jarvis MP.  See Dan in picture sharing a joke with members of my Branch.

Next was workshops on Sleep-ins & holiday pay; encourage & develop new women activists; mentoring & public speaking and TUPE developments.

Final session at 5pm was a speech followed by Q&A from our General Secretary, Dave Prentis. Dave made it clear that the union has to do everything it can to get rid of this Tory Government, which if it gets in again will finally destroy public services in this country and will do everything it can as well to destroy the union.

It the Q&A I made a comment that the choice in May 7 was between a Tory government and a Labour Government. That was the only choice. People may wish that this was different but this is the reality. It's Labour or it's Tories. It is a free country but people on May 7 could either vote for a Labour Government or let the Tories in. It is a simple as that.

Afterwards we all went to regional meetings and next is a trip to one of the famous Bradford Curry houses for a delegation meal.

The seminar starts again in the morning and the Community National Conference starts at 2pm.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

London Regional Council AGM Election Result 2015

Convenor: John Burgess – 61 Yvonne Green – 119 
Deputy Convenor: April Ashley – 60 Conroy Lawrence – 111 
Finance Convenor: John Gray – 117 Hugo Pierre – 57
Publicity Officer: Lynn Bentley – 115 Phoebe Watkins – 60
Equalities Convenor: Liz Baptiste – 124 Angela Boyle – 52

The cry baby goblin and his evil plans are seen off.

Democracy rules.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fidelity uses profits from your pension to fund the Tories and put you out of a job?

Check out Tom P post "Fidelity, the Tory-friendly fund manager" 

Just think about it. The multi millionaire owners of Fidelity uses profits from managing Council pension funds to promote the Tories - who want to sack and/or destroy the pay and conditions of those Council workers - who pay into the pension scheme in the first place.  What on earth is going on?

"As the latest info from the Electoral Commission reveals, Fidelity is still funding the Tories. £25,000 donated in November took their total for 2014 up to £120,000.

They are also still paying Tory MP Sir John Stanley for advice on "business opportunities and risks" at the rate of £1,800 a month (so around £20K a year). As I've noted before his constituency is where Fidelity is based, so will be interesting to see if they continue this relationship with Sir John's successor as he stands down at this election. It's a very safe seat so will return another Tory.

For those new to this story, it's worth noting that Fidelity have also -

Voted in favour of political donations to the Tories by PLCs in which they are a shareholder

Sponsored meetings of the Tory business liaison group the Enterprise Forum

Donated £50,000 to the No campaign in the AV referendum

So, if you don't want to fund the Tories by accident you might want to check out if you have any savings managed by them and see if you can switch. I shifted our family savings away from Fidelity several years ago because of this. I continue to try and make non-Tories, including pension fund trustees, aware of this link between Fidelity and the Tories. It's up to individuals to decide if they are happy with it, or if they think it constitutes any kind of conflict, but they should at least be aware of it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Living Rent

This motion was passed at my branch AGM which took place in City Hall last week. It will be one of our motions submitted to our UNISON National Conference in June (the other on "Union Busting").

If people think a "Living Wage" makes sense, then what about a "Living Rent"?

The motion was ably moved by Branch Executive member, Peter Daley. The idea for the motion came from a local branch steward who privately rents.

"UNISON National Delegate Conference notes
1.       Soaring UK rent rises will leave almost six million private renters living in poverty by 2040, according to recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
2.       Rents are growing  more than wages, year in and year out and are becoming more and more unaffordable.  This has caused overcrowding, exploitation and ill health.
3.       It has reached the point that working people cannot afford to live in many high rent areas anymore with homelessness also on the increase.
4.       We are becoming economic slaves to a new master class of landlords who will evict tenants who object to rent increases or if they complain about the state of their property.
5.       Huge amounts of taxpayers’ money is wasted on housing benefit and little is invested in building new homes.
6.       That in other countries such as Germany, Sweden, France and even America there is legal controls on rents.
7.       A “living rent” is as much a basic human right as access to the National Health Service: It is a basic human right
8.       That a truly affordable and sustainable “Living rents” cap for social and market rents in different parts of the Country can be calculated as is already done with the Living wage.

This National Delegate Conference calls upon the NEC to ensure
1.       That UNISON should campaign for a future government to begin a mass house building programme of social homes at social rents (around 50% of the market rent).  This will also bring about reductions in rent in the private sector
2.       That there should be compulsory regulation in the private rented sector to give tenants greater protection and security of tenure
3.    That rent controls are reintroduced and rents are capped at a “Living Rent” set by an independent commission.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

No wonder bosses don't want a Labour Government. Pure greed...

We are being taken for mugs. Workers and the share owners of companies (such as pension and insurance policy holders) alike are being ripped off. The father of modern day economics, Adam Smith, (not someone I usually cite and whose book "Wealth of Nations" was alleged to have been always in Margaret Thatchers handbag) warned the owners of companies in 1776 about the danger of Managers ("Agents") taking too much money for themselves at the expense of share owners ("Principles"). 

No wonder we are seeing a backlash by obscenely highly paid Chief Executives against the prospect of a Labour Government.

"Pay for Chief Executives of FTSE 350 companies has increased more than twice as fast as company profits... and around five times as fast as pay for the average UK worker"Hat tip Inequality briefing.

Friday, February 20, 2015

London Loop Walk: Section 2 - Old Bexley to Jubilee Park

Off message but photos are from the 2nd London Loop Walk last Sunday. This was just under 8 miles and much more attractive than the first. The riverside walk along the River Cray was very muddy but it was fun watching daft dogs jumping into the freezing cold water to chase balls or ducks.

I used the guidebook "The London Loop" by David Sharp/Colin Saunders (2012) which is much better than the rather useless directions on the Transport for London website.  London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has withdrawn funding for the walk I believe.

We had lunch at Georgian Country home, Sidcup Place, which is now run as a restaurant by Brewers Faye. Hot burgers and chips, tasty because of the cold but nothing much to write home about. It was interesting to look inside Sidcup Place and imagine what it looked like in the past (bottom right).

The last part of the walk was the best. Scadbury Park and Petts Wood was beautiful and peaceful. Only 13 more walks and about 134 miles to go.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"The Tories have become the political wing of the Hedge Fund Party"

This story in the Guardian is petty shocking. The email below was sent out on Tuesday by Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol.

Of course the real scandal is these Hedge funds managers are only making this money in the first place by ripping off your pension and saving funds.

"Hedge funds are bankrolling the Tories to the tune of £25,244 a day — and have received an enormous tax cut from them. Donate now to help us stop the wealthiest people in Britain from buying our election.

This is really troubling, to date, the Tories have received a barely believable £53 million in donations from hedge funds. In fact, the most recent figures show them bankrolling the Tories with £25,244 *a day* in 2014. That's more than most people in Britain take home in a year.

And the worst part is this — these big money hedge fund donors are exactly the same people David Cameron's government gave a £145 million tax cut to. We can't avoid the disturbing truth: if we can't compete with the funds they're getting from their small circle of wealthy backers, the Tories might be able buy the election in 2015".

Hat tip Mr Meech and picture from NewStatement article "The Zombies of Mayfair".

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

UNISON Greater London Housing Association Branch AGM 2015

Picture collage from last night's Annual General Meeting which took place at the iconic Greater London Assembly Building, City Hall, which is next to Tower Bridge. Long standing member of our branch and London Assembly member, Murad Qureshi, was our host and gave a welcome speech to members. Murad use to work in Regeneration at the same housing office (at a different time) I worked in for many years in East London. He spoke about the importance of trade union rights and his role as a GLA member holding to account the slippery Tory Mayor, Boris Johnson.

I was re-elected unopposed as Branch Secretary for the 5th year. I obviously must have had a very wicked previous life (joke).

Our keynote speaker was Labour Shadow minister, Stella Creasy MP, who gave a passionate speech about the housing crisis we face in this country. The lack of supply, unaffordable rents and mortgages, rip off letting agencies, revenge evictions and insecure tenancies. She called for people to join the Labour fightback against the recession which we should never forget was caused by Bankers.

Martin Groombridge from London Capital Credit Union also spoke about the many, many advantages for UNISON members to join a credit union.

Our top branch regional organiser, Colin Inniss, gave a typically thoughtful speech about the imperative for all union members to vote in the General election and get rid of this nasty and reactionary Tory led coalition government. Tell your family and friends that they should vote and to remember this government has doubled the amount of time it takes before you have any protection at work from unfair dismissal; it charges you up to £1200 if you want justice at work at a tribunal if you have been unfairly treated or sacked; the massive growth of food banks and insecure zero hour contracts.

While our final guest speaker, national UNISON organiser for our sector, Simon Watson (bottom left), gave a wide ranging presentation about the challenges facing our sector on pay, job insecurity, privatisation etc and how UNISON is facing up to these challenges by campaigning and organising members to stand up for their rights at work.

We heard 3 motions on "Protecting Pensions", "Union Busting" and "Living Rents". All 3 motions were passed but it was agreed to send the "Union Busting" and "Living Rents" motions to our National UNISON conference (we can only send 2).

The Branch is (touch wood) in good shape despite being in awful times. We are solvent, ambitious, growing (membership grew by 4.9% last year), politically active, successfully defending members individually and collectively, building new activists and becoming perhaps a model for the rest of the union on how to organise in our sector.

Many thanks to our branch staff Jo, Nazan, Sarah and Andy for all their hard work during the year and our ace UNISON Regional organisers Colin, Joy and Dario.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fair Pay Fortnight - Britain Needs a Pay Rise

Check out TUC website. These facts are a national disgrace and no Party except Labour will do anything to change this. "From 16 February to 1 March 2015 the TUC is running Fair Pay Fortnight, a series of events across the country that will raise awareness about Britain’s cost of living crisis.

Working people in the UK are seeing their living standards squeezed harder and harder every year. The cost of energy, food and housing is soaring but wages aren’t keeping up.

People have lost over £4,000 since 2009 and while jobs may be returning to the economy they’re increasingly low paid, low hours and low security.

A listings of local events around the country to mark Fair Pay Fortnight will be hosted at Campaigners will be out and about in many towns, and we’d love your help if you can spare a few hours to spread the word about Britain’s bad jobs crisis.

Find out more about why Britain needs a pay rise."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Democratise our savings - Why we need a Magna Carta for Pensions

Many thanks to Henry Tapper for the plug on his website "Pension Playpen - Restoring Confidence in Pension".

Henry talks sense and reflects a fairly widespread unease amongst member nominated trustees at least, that "professional" or corporate trustees should not be paid to "represent" the interests of ordinary policyholders on insurance companies "Independent Governance Committees" (IGC).

 I have met a number of excellent individuals, who are professional trustees or advisers and they can often play a vital role in supporting some trustee boards. Some others I am less with impressed with and I am forced to remember the old but wise adage "He who pays the piper calls the tune" is as true for the financial services industry as any other.

 I am always unhappy that they are called "trustees" which I think muddies the water. They are not trustees. They are professional advisers. As said before, there is nothing necessary wrong with that. Yet to be very clear they have no fiduciary duty to policyholders but to only to themselves, their partners or shareholders and not to beneficiaries. That is why it is absolutely crucial that policyholders should represent policyholders on an IGC.

Yes, there will be resource issues regarding elections and the occasional maverick will be elected but so what? To paraphrase we all know that democracy is the worst form of Governance - except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

We must restore faith in pensions and the financial services industry. IGCs are an historic opportunity to democratise our savings and protect policyholders from the constant drip, drip, drip of fraud, corruption and consumer rips offs.

Protect policyholders and protect insurance companies’ integrity and reputation at the same time. In that typically horrible but descriptive Americanism it is “win, win” for all.

UPDATE: also check out Nigel Stanley at the TUC website Touchstone

Sunday, February 15, 2015

West Ham & Ilford North Valentine's Day Labour doorstep

Picture from our Valentine "on the knocker" for Labour candidate in Ilford North, Wes Streeting.

West Ham Labour had two canvass teams working with local activists in Fairlop ward. While Lyn Brown MP ran a telephone canvassing bank at the Ilford North HQ.

We had a pretty successful canvass.  With a hard core Tory voter telling us they are impressed with the hard work and dedication by Wes and his activists.

I was pleased to meet one voter who said she had been luke warm towards Labour but had been impressed at what she saw on TV last week when Ed Miliband made our education policy launch.

I knocked on one door and a young girl aged about 11 opened it and I asked to speak to her Mum or Dad. She said she would find out and closed the door and after a few minutes she came back and told me "mum said no one was in". Fair enough!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

UNISON Housing Association AGM: Branch Secretary report 2014

On Tuesday next week it is my branch AGM at GLA City Hall. At the meeting the Annual Report for 2014 will be tabled (see here).

I have been re-elected unopposed again as Branch secretary for 2015/2016 and below is my contribution to the 2014 annual report.

"Our branch staff, stewards and activists have continued to protect members in the most difficult of circumstances against some of the very worse cuts in jobs and attacks on pay, pensions, terms and conditions. 

Care and support staff wages in particular are under threat as unscrupulous employers deliberately underbid to win contracts then try and do their upmost to destroy TUPE protections. 

All staff in our sector have suffered pay cuts while many housing management organisations are cash rich after years of inflation plus rent rises yet still refuse to pay their staff properly. This cannot be allowed to continue. Members must be prepared to stand up to employers when they are being treated unfairly and the union must be there to support them. 

While the representation of members in disciplines, sickness and grievances is a key part of what we do as a union, collective bargaining over pay, conditions and redundancies’ is the most important thing that unions can do for you. While not everyone will need personal representation, everyone will be impacted by threats to their jobs if, for example, there is a restructure or merger. In order to defend your rights we need to remember what our grandparents knew. The more of us in the union the better the deal the union will get. 

We need trade union recognition agreements in every single employer in our sector. You cannot rely on employment law to protect you at work. You can only rely on your union and your fellow workers. 

We need more employees to become UNISON members and activists. To help protect yourself ask a work colleague to become a UNISON member or become a workplace activist or local steward yourself. 

 In 2015 we must also continue to work with our regional and the national union to campaign against austerity and must play our part in arguing for an alternative economic policy regardless of who wins the General Election in May. 

The branch is in better shape than it has been for many years. Membership is growing and the branch is building a network of activists to help it protect and support members further and grow the union. Become part of this network and contact your local steward or the branch about becoming an UNISON activist. 

John Gray
UNISON Greater London Housing Association Branch"

Friday, February 13, 2015

"tax avoidance, everyone does it"

Brilliant. Tories justifying tax avoidance by rich. Hat tip Wrexham for Labour Facebook.

Ed & Education, Education, Education

On Thursday lunchtime I went to see Labour leader Ed Miliband at a policy launch on Education which took place at Haverstock school in Camden, North London. This state run comprehensive was where Ed and his brother David were educated.

While waiting for the event to begin I had a chat to a women sitting next to and by coincidence she was a retired former teacher of Ed at this school. Her name was Kate Myers and she was his form teacher and later head of house.

Of course I asked whether she had any juicy gossip about Ed when he was in the school and she shook her head and said "No, he was absolutely lovely".

Graham Lane, former Newham Council Chair of Education, was there and we had a chat about local issues. I must get around to reviewing Graham's excellent book "Local Government and Democracy - an insider's view" which is actually a first hand account of the massive changes in education policy in in recent decades. It has not always been a pretty tale.

The current head teacher of Haverstock, John Dowd, (who has a magnificent trimmed beard) introduced Ed to the audience and said the school always welcomes former pupils, including future Prime Ministers. 

Ed spoke about how important the school and its "extraordinary teachers" had been to him. A good education is imperative not only for pupils but also nations. He announced plans for a future Labour Government to increase spending on Education at least in line with inflation and limit primary school classes to 30. He also wanted parity of esteem for technical and academic qualifications.

In the Q&A the media present ignored education and failed to ask Ed a single question about it and instead only asked about the row between Ed and the Treasurer of the Conservative Party about tax avoidance. While this is an important subject the event was supposed to be about "Education". It goes to show how shallow and irreverent traditional UK media is making itself. I suppose if Ed had talked about changes to private school education they would have shown more interest.

I wasn't picked for the Q&A which was a shame since I was going to welcome his comments about the importance of paying teachers well with making sure that school support staff are also recognised as being vital to a great education and who equally deserve decent pay.

At the end I said to Ed's former teacher Kate that she must be very proud of Ed and what she has helped to achieve. She replied very softly but firmly "Yes, I am".

So there you go all you undecided and floating voters. Vote Ed for Prime Minister. Teacher knows best.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Councillor Dianne Walls OBE

Congratulations to top Labour Forest Gate Councillor and former Newham school head, Dianne Walls, for her award of the Order of British Empire (OBE) last week at Buckingham Place.  Well deserved and what a great photograph! hat tip Conor.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

UNISON Housing Association AGM - Stella Creasy MP Keynote Speaker

Don't forget the branch AGM is next Tuesaday 17th February, 6-8.30pm at City Hall, The Queen's Walk, London SE1 2AA (the London Assembly building). 

London Assembly member (and former branch member) Murad Qureshi is hosting the meeting whose theme will be "Rights at Work". 

All branch members welcome. Our keynote speaker will be Labour Shadow Minister and London MP Stella Creasy. 

There will be sandwiches and soft drinks as well as other speakers from UNISON. 

Check out agenda, motions and other information in the branch Annual Report - have a look for information about what your branch officers have been up to over the last year. You can also find the branch's annual reports on our website at:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Councillor report to West Ham Ward: February 2015

This is my written report as a Newham Councillor to West Ham ward Labour Party branch which meets every month. The ward thought to save time they would prefer written reports from Cllrs of which they could then ask questions.

Councillor Report to West Ham Ward


tel: 020 3373 **** or email John.Gray@newham.***.**

Ward meeting 5 February 2015

On 7 January I attended the Executive meeting of the Local Authority Pension Forum (LAPFF).  The forum believes that Council Pensions funds are being misled by accountancy firms about the profits and risks of companies they invest in.  They are taking advice by Cherie Blair QC on the matter and are lobbying the Financial Regulator for changes.

On 8 January I attend a finance committee meeting then full governors meeting of Rebecca Cheetham Nursery School, E15.  At the meeting the recent OFSTED report was discussed. The governors and staff were pleased that the school had gone from “requires improvement” to “Good” but were disappointed that they only narrowly missed obtaining “Outstanding”.

I did then go to the West Ham ward meeting that evening but it had finished early

On Saturday 10 January I held my surgery at Vicarage Lane community Centre. I had 3 cases - all involving housing issues.

On Wednesday 14 January I met with the Chief Executive of Newham Council, the Director of Finance and the Monitoring Officer with other Cllrs who are very concerned at the East Ham Campus overspend and unlawful expenditures.

On Wednesday 21 January I attended the AGM of LAPFF.  Please note that I am no longer a Newham Council member on the LAPFF and have reverted to being a trade union representative.

On Thursday evening 22 January I held a surgery at Brassett Point. Cllr Whitworth and I had swooped surgeries at my request due to a clash. I had one resident attend regarding a complicated planning dispute with a neighbour.

On Friday 23 January I meet up with the new engagement manager for West Ham and Stratford at the Stratford Library with Cllr Whitworth.

On Tuesday 27 January I attended a very moving and dignified remembrance event for Holocaust Memorial Day in the Old Town Hall in Stratford which was attended by our MP Lyn Brown.

In the evening I attended the Overview and Scrutiny commission meeting at East Ham Town hall where we scoped out our investigation into East Ham campus overspend and governance failures.

On Monday 2 February I attended a very interesting meeting of local Cllrs on Social media at  Coffee7 in Forest Gate. Publishing my Councillor reports on social media was one of the outcomes. 

Union Rights are Human Rights

This is me speaking last week at our UNISON London Regional Council AGM.

The motion was on "Union busting by UK public service providers" (see link for wording).

There a number of completely rogue and fascistic large UK Charities and Housing  Associations who refuse to recognise human rights and who threaten and attack union activists trying to protect their members.

This motion argues that no employer should have access to any public funds or procurement if they do not have a recognition agreement with a TUC affiliated trade union.

"Council, the United Nations recognises that there are 10 fundamental human rights and of those 10 rights is included that of free assembly for trade unions and collective bargaining. In the history of our union movement, activists have given their lives and their liberty in the fight to have trade unions recognised.

Unions in this country and all over the world are under attack. In the UK are numbers have gone down significantly but in recent years numbers have stabilised and we may see soon a return to growth. It is no coincidence that the massive decline in pay in recent years has been linked to the decline of collective bargaining. Workers desperately need the unions to protect and strengthen their terms and conditions by collective bargaining.

The best way to get recognition and collective bargaining is by action by members forcing anti-trade union employers to negotiate and bargain with unions. Yet when you are in a fight with employers for justice at work you want every help you can get.

Council, is it not perverse that in this county vast amounts of public money is handed over to organisations, which are hostile to unions? Why is this money going to organisations who don't believe in human rights? If public money was going to those who employed child labour or used corruption there would be an outcry. Yet we have allowed the government and employers to pick and choose which human rights they want to respect. A human right is a human right.

No organisation which refuses to recognise a trade union should be allowed to bid for any form of public money or support. No grants, No contracts, No loans, no Partnerships, No deals - not even housing benefit.

Council, What have they got to hide? Remember, that there is an extreme right wing ideology against trade unions. It is called corporatism. A core belief of corporatism is to get rid of trade unions and replace them with powerless and compliant staff associations.

While we would expect some hostile private sector employer to be anti union, we have organisations in this country masquerading as socially responsible charities.  They not only refuse to recognise trade unions but carry out trade union busting to threaten and frighten union activists and members.

Council, please support this motion and help send a message that trade unionism is your human right and we will not tolerate attacks on our human rights from anyone. Council, I move".

(motion was passed unopposed. I am not sure yet if it was selected for submission to our National Delegate conference. However, a version will be debated at the Community Conference later this month and I hope to try and send it by some route to the Labour Party conference in September)

Monday, February 09, 2015

A day with G Company 7 Rifles on Salisbury Plain

On Saturday I spent the day with 7 other Newham Councillors as the guests of G Company 7th Rifles Regiment, while they were training on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

G Company is our local British Army reservist unit in Newham, based at Cedar barracks in my ward next to West Ham park. This trip had been organised by the one and only, Terry Paul, Cllr for Stratford ward.

The idea was to give local Councillors some understanding of what our reservist soldiers in the modern army have to go through. Terry and I had both been members of the "Territorial Army" (TA) when we were younger, so we had some idea of what to expect. But in our day the TA role was to support NATO against a Soviet Union invasion of Germany. Not to serve on hostile active service operations such as in Iraq or Afghanistan, which modern day reservists are normally expected to carry out.

We arrived at the Drill Hall at 7.45 and we were somewhat to our surprise were issued with combat overalls, waterproofs, Bergen's (rucksacks), 24 hour pack of rations, mess tin, cooker and steel helmets. Everyone was very welcoming and pleased to see us. We then drove by a minibus to Salisbury Plain which is a massive military training area and got off at at some disused farm buildings.

During the trip down the soldiers accompanying us were very honest and frank about their experiences while on active service. By coincidence one was born in Canning Town, a street away from where Terry was brought up while the other was his possible distant cousin. At the farm buildings we had a series of briefings about our day and were advised to put on all our warmest and windproof clothing.

G Company had arrived on the previous Friday evening and had spent the night sleeping out in the open and were carrying out reconnaissance training exercises all Saturday until about 2am the following day.  They were then planning a dawn attack on an "enemy" position on the Sunday morning.

We discovered why we had metal helmets as we climbed into our army cross country heavy goods vehicle to be transported to our first site. I used to be a military HGV driver and in my day (an expression which makes me feel pretty old) there was only a bench either side of the rear of the HGV that we were expected to sit on as passengers. Nowadays you have to wear a metal helmet and sit in racks with an airplane style safety harness. Going across rough country you appreciate wearing a helmet and harness.

After about 15 minutes we stopped at a wood near a training ground, got out and walked to the company machine gun platoon exercise. The platoon were practising coordinating and firing 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG)

We then spoke to the machine gun teams about what they do and examined the GPMG and their SA 80 rifles. The machine guns, the tripods and belts of ammunition were so heavy you could not imagine carrying them as well as your other military kit.

Afterwards we went into a nearby wood which had been the sleeping area for the company the previous night and had a fantastic presentation by a rifleman on how to cook lunch from our "24 hour ration packs".  It was very cold in the wood and we all enjoyed the hot food even if it took us a little while and a bit of trial and error. Hot food is a brilliant pick-you-up that you only really appreciate if you are very cold.

We then went off to observe a section of the Rifle platoon carry out different patrolling exercises and formations. If a patrol was attacked they practiced firing back and maneuvering either to attack or move away. This is what infantry soldiering is all about. If you come under fire on a patrol you know what to do instinctively since you have practiced this time after time after time.

It was sobering to think that some of the more experienced soldiers present had actually done this in real life and had carried out these exercises while under fire from live bullets.

Finally, we drove back to the base in the HGV and then had a debrief with a cup of hot coffee then left to drive home to East London. All of us fell asleep on the way back. At Cedar barracks we dropped off our kit and changed back into our normal clothes.

I think that every single one of us Councillors really enjoyed the day and found it fascinating and different but also the friendliness and hospitality shown by everyone towards all of us was simply stunning. Thank you very much G Company 7 Rifles. You did us proud.

Afterwards some of us went to the Black Lion in Plaistow to give a toast to 7 Rifles and wish them well with the rest of the exercise.

I must admit that I was also thinking that day of my Grandfather, Frederick Matthews, who in 1915 did his basic military training in the Salisbury Plain and then went on to command a machine gun platoon in Gallipoli and later in the trenches in France. Did he practice such military skills in these very same fields and valleys 100 years ago?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Protecting our Pensions from Tory Con Trick

UNISON Housing Association delegate, Mitsy Harman, speaking at the regional AGM last week on our motion "Protect our Pensions" (see link here for text). This is an early draft of her speech.

"Council, from April 6 this year, this Conservative led government is about to play a huge con trick on ordinary working people.  People who have skimped and saved over the years to put money by for their futures.

Council, this money is being deliberately put at risk and the only ones to benefit will be the City crooks that finance the Conservative Party, as they rob our members over the age of 55 of their money and that of their spouses.

Remember the Tories hate anything that is collective, they don't want pension boards or independent trustees looking after their members money and making sure that it is safe. They would rather dismantle our person schemes and hand them over directly to big business to profit from.

Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, calls April 6 "pension freedom day". Council, this is not freedom, it is an occupation, an occupation by those who see you as easy pickings; an occupation that will destroy lives and end up with many of our members retiring into and dieing in poverty.

Our members in the Local Government Pension Scheme and other funded schemes such as the Pension Trust and the Social Housing Pension fund will be targeted by armies of thieves, spivs and charlatans, as they did under Thatcher, when millions of people were told to buy personal pensions and sell their company schemes.

Those of you here who have pension money invested in stakeholders or auto enrolment will also be targeted by those wanting to steal your futures as well.

We must as a union save our pensions and save our members from having them stolen and exchanged for snake oil. We have a responsibility to make sure that our pensions are safe. One of the reasons for forming unions was for decent secure retirements and we must do whatever is necessary to defend our members and their pensions.

Please support this motion, Council, I move". It was passed unanimously.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Newham Councillors on route to 7 Rifles

This picture is from this morning, just before the 8 of us went off to join our local British Army Reservists - G Company, 7 Rifles in Salisbury Plain.

We got back this evening after a great day with G Company. I will write up a full post tomorrow but in the meanwhile, can we all think of G Company, who are now spending their 2nd night sleeping out on Salisbury Plain in the freezing cold while preparing for a practice assault at first light tomorrow.

As well as all the other British Forces personal, who are still putting themselves in harms way across the world.

Friday, February 06, 2015

UNISON London LGBT "Equality at Work" Labour Link event at House of Commons

This great picture is from last weeks London UNISON LGBT "Equality at Work" mobilisation event at Portcullis House. I chaired the meeting on behalf of London Labour Link. Margret Hodge MP and Stephen Twigg MP were the guest speakers and reminded us that the Labour Party was the first political party to take LGBT equality at all seriously. While LGBT Chair, Deirdre Costigan, (next to Margaret) gave a fantastic speech about how no one should take these rights for granted if there is a future right wing government.

We are going to arrange for UNISON London LGBT activists to join West Ham CLP canvassing sessions for Labour in Ilford North. 2pm on the 2nd Saturday and 4th Saturday at Fairlop Underground station entrance. If you can let me know you are coming do so or just turn up at this time and place.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

John Gray? Common as muck

Today is National Voter Registration Day.

The Labour Party has sent out this on line tool that will work out how many people registered to vote have the same name as you.

Check out

1,346 are called "John Gray" and the 2nd most common name is "John".

There is a serious point to this since nearly a million voters have dropped off the electoral list following changes by this Government. 

Make sure you register to vote here

"Stand Up For Labour" Theatre Royal Stratford East Monday 9 March

West Ham and Ilford North CLPs are hosting that biggest ever Stand Up for Labour event at Stratford’s famous Theatre Royal on 9 March. You can book your seats here to attend a fantastic night of comedy to raise money for Labour.

Top comedians Sarah Pascoe and Arthur Smith, famous for both stand-up and TV and radio panel shows including QI, are already confirmed, along with Live from the Apollo compere Stephen K Amos. And we’ll soon be able to reveal our very famous headline act…

The night is hosted by Lyn Brown, MP for West Ham, and Labour’s candidate for Ilford North Wes Streeting. We also have a special guest speaker, NHS campaigner Harry Leslie Smith, who received a standing ovation at last year’s Labour conference talking about his life and childhood before the welfare state.

This fantastic night of comedy is all about raising money for Labour’s election campaigns in West Ham and Ilford North (our key battleground in East London).

It’s going to be a brilliant sell-out event. Book your seats NOW online or by calling the box office on 020 8534 0310. Tickets are £20/£12.50 (with concessions).

Friends and family and non Labour members are very welcome – although the content might not be suitable for the right leaning…

Hope to see you raising a laugh to raise money for Labour on Monday 9 March.

hat tip West Ham Labour

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

UNISON Greater London Regional AGM election results 2015

The Evil Ones were crushed. The election result in today's London regional council AGM was the 10th victory in a row for the forces of light and reason against the Ultra left and their supporters.

Clear proof that the mass of ordinary unison members and branches are not interested in student union toy town politics. Instead, in these serious times, they want a grown up union leadership, one that will do what they think is best for members and not barmy extremist postulating.

It was amusing to read the on-line strop from the well known "Goblin and evil one-in-chief" middle class stranger to the truth. What else do you expect from those who despise working class people, since they think we are too thick to understand what is good for us and don't do what they tell us.

Left politics in this country has suffered so much from these 5th columnist Tory excuser's, who discredit the entire progressive agenda which their ranting, wreaking and splitting. It is the Far Right such as UKIP who are the chief beneficiaries from this nonsense but the wreckers don't care and actively want the right to win in order to bring about "the revolution". yeah. Dream on comrades.

Anyway, the motto for the sensible left in London from now on is "10 more years"!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Keir Hardie Centenary Year - Monday 9 Feb 2015 at Westminster Hall

I cannot believe it but I have a clash on the 9th and will not be able to make this celebration of Keir Hardie, the first ever independent Labour MP at Westminster Hall. 

Keir become the MP for West Ham South on 4 July in 1892

Hopefully, someone else from West Ham Labour Party will be able to attend and report back on it.

Hat tip Dave Watson

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Boots the tax dodgers

The latest attempt by the Tories to attack Ed Miliband has backfired.

The Billionaire Italian boss of Boots the Chemist, Stefano Pessina. told the Sunday Torygraph if Labour politicians acted in the way that they spoke “it would be a catastrophe”.

It turns out that the billionaire does not pay any tax in the UK and lives in Monaco. Also that Boots has avoided £1.21 billion in corporate tax dodges since 2007. Enough to have employed nearly 85,000 new NHS nurses.Check out Richard Murphy at tax research UK

When you consider that 40% of its turnover is from NHS prescriptions you start to realise how corrupt the senior management of this once proud UK company are.

As a pension trustee and representative of asset owners I consider all companies who avoid paying their fair share of taxes as being run by thieves. If they deliberately don't pay their taxes then what other immoral and corrupt practices are taking place in that Company? Executive pay fiddles? Bribery? Child labour? or destroying the environment?  If you have a company culture that sees nothing wrong with depriving pensioners and hospitals of money then there is obviously a huge governance risk.

Expect similar "dog whistle" attacks by the rich and powerful against Ed Miliband and Labour in the run up to the General Elections. The millionaires who back the Tories do not want to pay their fair share of taxes and will do anything to defeat Labour.

London UNISON Regional Council AGM 2015

On Wednesday 4th February 2015 at 10am it is the Annual General Meeting of the Greater London UNISON Regional Council.

It will take place at the Holiday Inn Conference room, Coram Street (across the road from Russell Square tube station). Doors open at 8:45am.

There will be guest speakers, reports and motions but the chief purpose of the AGM is to elect Regional Council Officers and committee members.

This will be last AGM as Regional Convenor for Gloria Hanson who is stepping down. Gloria has done a fantastic job as Convenor for many years but now thinks it is time to let someone new take over. Existing Equalities Convenor, Yvonne Green, is standing and she will make a terrific Regional Convenor.

The forces of light and reason are standing a full slate against the ultra left evil ones.  So if you are a UNISON branch delegate to the AGM please consider voting as below:-

Yvonne Green - Regional Convenor 

Conroy Lawrence - Deputy Regional Convenor 

John Gray - Regional Finance Convenor 

Liz Baptiste - Regional Equalities Convenor 

Lynn Bentley - Regional Publicity Officer

Update: Clean sweep - Victory for forces of light and reason!