Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Newham Crew at Labour Party Conference 2015 #Lab15

Picture from the traditional Conference social for members of West Ham and East Ham Labour Party members on Monday evening.

While I have no doubt this picture will now reappear in various Newham based blogs with helpful captions and comments I am sure that it will all be in the spirit of "Kinder Politics".


Jeremy Corbyn's Leader's speech to Labour Conference #Lab15

Despite being a delegate (and in theory having a reserved seat) there was still a massive queue for us to get in for the "Leader's speech".

The atmosphere in the hall itself was one of anticipation and a genuine curiosity about what Jeremy would say and how he would deliver it.

It was  a lovely touch to have him introduced by an articulate teenager from Islington North who was the daughter of a refugee who had fled for his life to safety in Britain.

He was wearing a tie and jacket which greatly pleased Ivy, my veteran UNISON colleague from Derby, who had been sitting next to me for the conference. She had expressed some concerns on this matter beforehand but she did notice that his tie was not fully done up.

He looked relaxed and confident. The pressure must have been immense. He started brilliantly, poking fun at the right wing gutter press and their absurd reporting about him. On how he wanted the earth to be destroyed by an asteroid, English premier league football would be doomed if he became Prime minister and his "love" of Chairman Mao bikes.

He thanked former leader Ed Miliband and praised his opponents in the leadership battle. He wanted an inclusive shadow team from all wings in the Party.  He did not want to impose ideas and instead wanted an open, real debate. Straight talking and honest.

He attacked the government for not standing up for the right things such as pressuring Sauria Arabia over the likely beheading and crucifixion of a 17 year old protester, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr.

Since his election he has had plenty of plenty of advice on what to do. He has been accused by the Tories of threatening the economy and family security. Where is the security for the millions of UK families who have suffered the longest fall in living standards since records began? (I looked at the pictures of the shadow front bench team nodding).

He made a few slip ups in his speech but recovered quickly and did not seem put off. At the UNISON reception last night he said this was one of the few times he had ever read out a prepared speech.

Jeremy praised our British military but said he had a mandate to oppose the £100 billion that would be spent on Trident nuclear weapons. He agreed with Paddy Ashdown that there needed to be a  diplomatic solution to the war in Syria.

He made it clear that there had been a "political earthquake this summer" and the modern left will build a society for the many not the few.

Jeremy wants grown up real politics where real people debate real politics. No personal abuse. No rudeness. He quoted Maya Angelou, you may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Cut out abuse. Cut out cyber bullying. Cut out misogynistic abuse.

Stop Tory gerrymandering of the Boundary Commission. Their broken promise on tax credits will mean low paid workers will pay the price of the cut in inheritance tax cut for the wealthiest 60,000 UK families.

Kinder politics, Labour politics with people before profit. We need Council housing and to build a decent home for everybody.

The few tell the many what they have to live on. Since Cameron has become Prime Minister he has received £55 million from hedge funds. In return they have got £145 million in tax cuts.

He finished by reminding us that the last bearded man to lead the Labour Party was our founder Keir Hardie. Who was once asked to summarise his life. Hardie thought about this for a moment and said "My work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent with wrong".

There followed a genuine, warm and enthusiastic standing ovation in the hall. The speech was aimed at the Labour  Party but will I think will resonate throughout the Country. The Labour Party has changed. There has indeed been an earthquake in British Politics. Whether some members like it or not. I don't think that any of us really understands what has really happened and what comes next. It is just too soon.

We are now not all things to all men and women. We are becoming as confident and assertive as the Conservatives are with their natural policies. Labour is unabashed pro peace through the united nations, anti racist and welcoming to the oppressed, pro nationalisation of natural monopolies, anti tax abuse by the mega rich, pro workers, anti poverty & pro equality. We will indeed tax the rich and spend on the poor and our public services.

This is all of course high risk, it could all be a flash in the pan and we may crash and burn. But to win in 2020 was always going to be a tall order. We have to take risks in politics. Nobody, repeat nobody really thought that Jeremy would win the leadership race, so humble pie should be partaken in huge chunks by those who now predict disaster for the Party. We have a capable, personable, pragmatic and intelligent leader with a huge democratic mandate.

A little while ago I said at a meeting that the progressive left mostly agree on our goals but cannot agree on the timetable and the way to get there. There is an opportunity now to get a Prime Minister elected who can actually get us there a lot sooner than anybody else thought possible and who deserves their chance to deliver.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

News from UNISON Housing Associations Branch #Lab15


Think again: Don't Sell Off our Homes 
For immediate release – 29 September 2015

UNISON Housing Associations Branch is warning that the Housing Fringe at the Labour Party conference last night showed that a number of the major Housing Association players are about to buckle to Government threats and sign up to a "voluntary" agreement to Right to Buy and let hard pressed Councils pick up the tab.

"This is going to be a disaster for the social housing movement. Not only will this result in hundreds of thousands fewer homes but this will destroy the relationship between Housing Associations and many local authorities and take us back decades". Said John Gray, Branch Secretary UNISON Housing Association Branch.

Housing chiefs last night admitted that that it was possible that mandatory right to buy could be defeated in the House of Commons never mind the House of Lords.  

The argument that a voluntary agreement was better than a mandatory one was described as "nonsense" by a Council leader present.

"Right to buy amidst a housing crisis paid by stealing money and homes from councils is immoral. The sector should be ashamed of themselves. They are protecting their pay and privileges at the expense of their tenants and my residents".

"If this goes ahead this will set back the relationship with Councils and Housing Associations back to the 1980s. How can Councils work with and trust Housing Associations again if they are stabbed in the back" 

The meeting last night pointed out that this about-turn by the sector was only weeks after the Government attacked the high salaries of Housing Association Executives. 

The Government was under pressure over mandatory right to buy because if it happens they faced the prospect of housing association debt being reclassified as being pubic sector which would worsen the national deficit. 

Housing Associations that take part in this agreement face partnership arrangements between them and councils being ripped up. 

Even Conservative Councils who are facing the decimation of their social housing stock to pay for this are opposed.

For more information please contact John Gray.

(Picture of Shadow Cabinet Minister for Housing John Healey announcing today that Labour opposes the Government stitch up on Right to Buy)  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Labour Party Conference 2015 Sunday morning

Some brief comments on the first day of conference. It started relatively early for me on a Sunday with a Unison delegation meeting at 9am. During which we agreed collectively our approach on motions, rule changes and internal elections.

Conference started at 11am with a standing ovation for Jeremy Corbyn as he came on the platform and took his seat under the strap line "Straight talking".  NEC Chair Jim Kennedy opened conference and the local MP Peter Kyle gave a welcome speech.

Conference business started with a card vote on a call for a "Reference back" of the conference arrangements committee decision for ruling out of order some motions. Which takes me right back to past Unison conferences in this same hall.

Next was a minutes silence for members who have died in the past year then Merit awards for long service to the Party including a 100 year old former trade union and Council leader.

The General Secretary, Iain McNicol, gave his annual report followed by "best practice awards".

I was pleased to see that Wes Streeting MP and the Ilford North CLP election team were given an award for their successful election campaign in May.

Margaret Becket gave a report on the general election campaign "Learning the Lessons". We had actually  generally gained votes in the election but generally in seats we had already strong majorities. Scotland was of course a disaster. We tended to do well in regions we were strong. There was 12 gains from Liberal Democrats and 10 from Tories but we lost 8 to the Tories and 40 to SNP.  The one good thing about 2015 was that for the first time the long term decline in our vote since 1997 was reversed.

Mary Turner from NEC gave a report on the National Policy Forum.

Followed by debates and speech by Angela Eagle, Shadow Secretary of State for Business. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

London Reception #Lab15

After arriving at the hotel in Brighton and picking up my delegation pack from unison office, I went to my first conference event, the London Labour Party reception.

This is the annual shin dig for London delegates and Party members. London Labour Chair and Assembly member Len Duvall opened the reception.

The guest speaker was of course London MP and newly elected Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  The meeting was packed and when Jeremy arrived he took ages to make his way through the crowd as he stopped to greet and speak to people. I managed to tease him for not turning up to our London Unison Labour Link meeting last week to give his quarterly Parliamentary report.  Jeremy being Jeremy, he sincerely apologised and said he will try and attend a future meeting. I said we would not denounce him on this occasion.

He gave a rousing and even emotional speech which went down well. I am trying to work out when the last time a London MP was Labour Party leader.

Dawn Butler MP spoke about the successes that London Labour had in May and introduced our new MPs.

Unison regional secretary Linda Perks introduced the next keynote speaker, Labour London Mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan. His election next May as Mayor will be crucial to the Labour recovery.

During the reception I was able to join in with some fairly heavy duty lobbying about Housing Associations attempts to do a dodgy deal with the Government in favour of Right-to-buy and rat out local authorities. I hope that delegates will bring this up with CEOs at the conference fringes sponsored by Housing Associations.

Afterwards a very mixed bunch of us from Newham and a number of other CLPs went off for a meal to carry on chatting, arguing and (occasionally) gossiping. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Labour Party Conference 2015. A view.

I've just finished packing for Conference and will soon be on my way to catch the train for Brighton.  For the Party this should prove to be a pivotal Conference.

After the shock and devastation that we all felt following the Conservative victory in May, we now unexpectedly have a Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is firmly of "the left".

He is also supportive of trade unions and many of our policies and who actually defines himself politically as a trade unionist.  I don't think this has fully sunk in yet.

I also think that many people do not fully understand the reasons for his massive victory nor the political mood change that brought it about.

Its not just those on the right who just don't get it. On the left there are those who don't understand how you can be a radical and softly spoken. How you can respect those who you don't agree, without the need to attack them personally. 

Jeremy of course, has to deliver. To do this he has to win the next General Election. It is pointless to have a leader who supports you if he or she is not in a position to actually legislate. This is especially important to trade unions, when we are currently facing a huge threat to our long term existence from the Tory (anti) trade union bill currently going through the House of Commons.  The Unions foundered the Labour Party in the first place to rebalance power in the workplace in favour of workers.

It was always going to be tough to win the next election regardless of who is leader. The economy is likely to slowly recover (in spite of Tory policies), unfavourable boundary changes are very probable and if the UK votes to stay in the EU then UKIP is likely to collapse. So difficult but a Labour leader who can inspire and enthuse could do it.

The first big test will be the London Mayoral, Scottish Parliament and local councils elections in May next year.

Expect further abuse and monstering of Jeremy (and his family) before then. He therefore needs all our support. The new members and supporters who have flocked to the Party must take the next step and become activists and be prepared to organise and go out on the doorstep.

Existing Party activists who didn't choose Jeremy as leader must now accept that he is and he has a mandate for change. It doesn't mean you will agree with everything (who does in life?) but all those who consider themselves democrats must accept this and give him his chance. There is no alternative to this and those who don't like this will simply have to lump it.

I will post further on the Conference as and when. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Housing Associations: Don't Give in to Right-to-Buy Sell off Sell out!

Check out Inside Housing on the Governments attempt to bully Housing Associations to agree to a "voluntary" right to buy scheme within the next week. This is wrong on a number of counts. I have posted the comment below in the Inside Housing website on this stupid and desperate proposal.  

If you are a resident of a Housing Association or have any "pull" on its Board then let them know your opposition.

"Divide and Conquer? Don't do it!

This looks like Councils will still be forced to sell off stock to fund the discount (aka election bribe) at the expense of the homeless and the vulnerable. New build will still cost more than money from Right to buy receipts so reducing the total social housing stock even further.

Housing associations are not the property of their Chief Executives or even Chairs of Boards and this matter should be subject to full Board oversight and consultation with residents after due diligence.

This is a sign of desperation by the Government because they know that they not may not be able to get in through the House of Lords as well as facing numerous legal challenges (including adding Housing Association debt to government public debt).

Housing associations should remind themselves of their social purpose and mission.  The crumbs being offered are nowhere near enough. They should stand up to Government bullying.

So don't do it. The sector should work with Councils, trade unions and resident groups to oppose this destruction of Social Housing. Turkeys should not vote for Christmas."

UPDATE: Labour Housing shadow minister John Healey and London Labour Assembly Tom Copley slam the proposals here. While London Councils attack the proposal and the National Housing Federation for betrayal here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Camden NSL Parking Wardens Strike

This morning I went to Norwich by train to represent a UNISON member at a hearing then came back into London to attend a HR meeting on employment policies and procedures. On route I came across Camden UNISON members who work for the Parking Contractor NSL holding a lobby out side the new Camden Council office in Kings Cross. I went over and spoke to them and offered solidarity on behalf of their fellow UNISON members in my Branch (Greater London Housing Associations)

These parking wardens are out on strike for 7 days for a decent living wage. Check out the Camden UNISON website on the dispute and a largely supportive article in the local Camden newspaper.

I have sent a members enquiry to Newham Council and asked what our privatised Parking Attendents are paid.

NSL is privately owned by AAC Capital Partners. I will do some digging into who invests in them.

TUC Congress 2015: Monday

Apologies for lateness but this is a snapshot of day 2 of last weeks TUC Congress (Monday) from a UNISON delegates point of view.

Our first Congress guest speaker was John Bercow MP,  the Speaker of the House of Commons (and of course a Conservative MP). He thinks trade unions do great work ensuring fairness at work! He was entertaining and actually very supportive. He claimed that he was not the smallest ever Commons speaker in height - since a number of his predecessors had their heads chopped  off.

His take off of Tony Benn (I thought at that the time this is risky) actually worked and he made Congress laugh. He admitted that when he was younger and very (very) right wing, we would not have wanted him to have been here. When he left he had to go back and act as Speaker for the Commons debate on the (anti) Trade Union Bill. Shame none of his Party colleagues felt able to oppose its 2nd reading even though the more sensible realise that it is fascistic and a breach of human rights".

There was a genuine standing ovation for TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady, after her speech to Congress.  She calls on Jeremy Corbyn to get stuck in, unite the party & win the next General election. 

During the day we heard more about new Labour Leader (JC) appointments to the Shadow cabinet and was really pleased to hear that John Healey had been appointed Shadow Housing & Planning minister. I will look forward to inviting him back to my branch Labour Link AGM to speak.

Manchester UNISON, Rena Wood, tells it as it is about the Government "Prevent" programme in Composite 11 on "Education & Extremism".

Denise Ward gives a UNISON HE worker and women's view on the composite "Education Funding Crisis"

Birmingham nurse and UNISON delegate, James Anthony, moves motion 33 on "English decentralisation & trade unions". He ponders the "threats & strengths". Seems to me to be more threats to local democracy if Executive Mayors are imposed when they are not wanted and inadequate checks and balances on their powers are in place.

In the afternoon I moved the Composite on the Housing Crisis on behalf of UNISON and after close of Congress I went to the UNISON fringe on the "Real Debt Problem".

Finally check out Eastern Region UNISON branch secretary, Mark Task, on the front cover of the daily Congress magazine "TUC today".

(apologies also to any UNISON colleagues who spoke who I have missed out)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Minding the Gap: The Role of SureStart Children’s Centres"

This is Newham Scrunity Chair, Cllr Dianne Walls OBE, speech last night to Full Council. Dianne is a former head teacher of a primary school and a children's centre. Newham Council is consulting on cutting the number of Children centres in the borough due to Government cuts.

"SureStart was one of the defining initiatives of the last Labour government- a plan to give young families and children the support they needed in the pre-school early years. The evidence was and is compelling. Around 80% of the results gap between disadvantaged children and their better off peers at GCSE is already present by the age of seven. Indeed the same is true of a whole host of other important attributes –from well-being and emotional intelligence to behaviour and concentration. In simple terms, in education, inequality begins too early.

Labour’s SureStart children’s centres were conceived as an answer to this challenge. Their whole purpose was geared towards closing the gap between disadvantaged children and those more fortunate; driven by a philosophy that “no child should be left behind” when taking their first steps inside a classroom. In addition, with educational achievement such a strong predictor of life-long success, the hope was, that over a period of time, the SureStart programme would begin to breakdown the cycle of deprivation in our communities.

Newham can be very proud of its commitment to and investment in Early Years, which has begun to realise excellent outcomes for children at the end of the Foundation Stage.

It takes time for investment in education, health and child development to show fruit and we are beginning to see those results coming now.But to quote from the latest paper of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust: “Britain remains a very unequal society. Child poverty persists in this, one of the world’s richest nations, and this social and material divide, maps, with depressing exactness, onto the gap in educational attainment…”

The beauty of SureStart is that it was a policy which tackled social injustice at source, whilst also providing a new community resource for parents and young families.

However, warnings made in 2010 about cuts to funding for SureStart children’s centres were more than justified, despite David Cameron’s protestations to the contrary.

Under the Coalition government and now under the Tories vital SureStart services in many areas are being savagely cut. This is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of this government. If anything the evidence in favour of intervention in the early tears has become even more conclusive. The latest scientific research from fields as diverse as neuroscience and cognitive psychology{ Newham children’s centres were involved in this research with UEL} all point to the crucial bond between toddlers and parents for child development.

The evidence shows the dramatic consequences for a whole host of outcomes in later life:-health, wellbeing, material success and even employment opportunities.

That the Tories could be so neglectful towards the policy best placed to achieve this is short sighted and blinkered in the extreme.

In Newham we know better and because we have always tracked children as they move from children’s centres into primary school, we can show the benefits of the SureStart programmes. Children’s centre staff have also made possible the early identification of children with Additional Educational Needs giving them a better start in school or nursery. They also support and train to a high standard childminders in their networks, providing a much needed source of quality childcare. Other services frequently found in many centres include health and maternity services as well as parenting and ESOL classes for adults. Centres also help victims of domestic violence and those suffering from drug and alcohol problems by giving advice and sign posting them to appropriate agencies. The trust placed in the practitioners in the centres is at the heart of their success.

It will be a challenge for the Better Start in Life Guarantee to deliver even better outcomes for children, based on research about what are the most effective programmes to achieve this.

As a successor to SureStart, providing childcare, health services and much more, the new hubs should take their place at the centre of their communities. Hopefully, they will, through delivering integrated programmes in outposts and homes around the borough, provide services in a joined up way and attack inequality and disadvantage at its root. That is surely what so many of us are in politics to achieve and where we should be investing our scarce resources.

Cllr Dianne Walls OBE

September 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Workers' Capital Conference 2015 (Day 2)

This is a little late. I have posted here and linked here on the first day of this global annual conference for trade union pension trustees and organisers that took place earlier this month.

(On my account I tweeted on the presentations and speeches which I have now used to write this post).

The day was started by a welcome speech from Toni Heerts (FNV) Committee Workers Capital Chair & Co-Chair Paddy Crumlin (ITF). 

The 1st plenary was on "Embedding pro-labour practises & policies for responsible investment". Willem Noordman from the Dutch Pension Federation recognised that engineering unions would have a different view of arms production than others but all unions have plenty in common. There is a real dilemma that if we disinvest from a company because we don't like their practises that we lose all influence over them.

Tom Croft, from the USA Steel Valley Authority in Pittsburgh pointed out that the "S" in "ESG" principles (Environmental, Social and Governance) is too often forgotten.

Pension trustee and national officer, John Neil, from Unite spoke about the Trade Union Shareholders Organisation (TUSO) in the UK. Trade union staff pension funds in the TUC, UNISON, Unite and the ITF combine collectively to make sure that all the shares they own are voted in the interests of "pro-labour" at company AGMs (such as the rogue UK company "Sports Direct" the following day)

A number of international speakers mentioned TUSO at the conference and that they hoped that something similar would be set up in their countries.

I asked the question is there evidence collated of "pro-labour" companies that have proved to be long term good investments that we can show our trustee Boards? Tom Croft responded that in the USA there are certain Private Equity companies that have humanely restructured firms & saved jobs.

Next Janet Williamson from the TUC chaired a panel on 2022 World Cup construction deaths in Qatar.  Gemma Swart from the ITUC spoke about the modern day slave camps in Qatar and that investor pressure over reputational risk can bring about change since the whole country is essentially a family business.

Roel Nieuwenkamp from OECD pointed out that they have introduced binding guidelines on contractors including supply chains with a grievance procedure. "Soft law with hard consequences". He used an example of a complaint by a NGO against Formula1 over human rights in Bahrain and there could be a similar one against Fifa over Qatar.

Hugues Letourneau  from CWC on their human/labour rights campaign in Qatar points out that there has been 279 Indian migrants deaths so far. They are putting pressure on UK and French construction firms via "investor letters".

Cllr Richard Greening from LAPFF  spoke about their engagement with companies exposed in media working in Qatar at AGMs & face-to-face meetings.

(after this session I had to go to a work meeting and missed the debate on infrastructure investment which I understand was pretty heated at times. Some delegates believed that such investment was being misused to privatise public services)

I came back to hear Nick Robins from UNPRI enquiry on the "Design of a Sustainable Financial System".  He believed that there was evidence of a "quiet revolution" in Green investment despite agreeing the Governor of the Bank of England that there was a "tragedy of horizons".

Then 'Labour Standards in Sustainability Rating: How well they incorporated?' Chaired by Elizabeth Umla.

John Jarrett from "FTSE for good" index explained how they did their ESG research and how core Labour standards from all companies are assessed including the supply chain.  Antti Savilaakso from MSCI admitted they have a somewhat similar method to FTSE. They have 130 analysis serving 900 clients. Their key issue is to decide whether bad company behaviour is a one off or structural?

Keeran Gwilliam-Beeharee from Vigeo said they do things differently. They start with the four core ILO standards. Governance issues are the best reported but Labour issues have a low coverage and there is decreasing information on it.

Mario Enrique Sanchez Richter, CCOO trade union economist spoke about his report on the sustainability of rating agencies and how well do they measure? His conclusion was that they do not measure very well.

Final speaker was  Brian Daley from ACTU who stated bluntly that he had not seen any evidence that Labour/Social ratings were actually used by fund managers or advisers to make buy or sell decisions.

In the Q&A Keeran responded to a question on why Labour issues are not being covered by saying that Governance issues such as corruption are seen as more important and lack of investor pressure.

I asked the panel whether rating agencies could give evidence of Companies with good Labour ratings having better long term performance? If they did this would this increase demand for such ratings? John replied that he was not aware of such evidence and agreed that Green and governance issues tended to "crowd out" Labour issues. Brian responded that we should be asking these questions and this should be at the heart of what trustees do.

The closing session was first a video from Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO & CWC co-chair on building an economy & retirement future that we can be proud of. Then final remarks from ITUC General Secretary Sharon Burrow, who said we want rights over our capital but we also want sustainability. While we respect workers in the carbon industry there will be no jobs in a dead planet.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"If she drowns she's a refugee, if she floats she's an economic migrant".

This is the "Katie Hopkins" immigration test that the Tories are thinking of introducing to appease The Sun and Daily Mail readers.

Hat tip Becky Tye.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Unison has done so much for working women"

UNISON's President Wendy Nichols has responded below to a bizarre (and "untrue") attack on the union in the Guardian last week. 

When I think of all the very strong and influential women in UNISON the idea that they are being "side lined" is frankly laughable.  

"Women do indeed make up three-quarters of Unison’s membership, but far from being a union whose “upper echelons continue to be dominated by men” (The Labour movement sidelines women all the time, 12 September), women play an active part, including throughout its top tier. Three out of the five assistant general secretaries are women. Two-thirds of Unison’s presidential team are female, as they are every year, because of rules steered through by Dave Prentis, when he was deputy general secretary at the time of the union’s creation. 

Two-thirds of the NEC, Unison’s governing body, are women, as they are on all the other committees that shape the direction of the union. Similarly, eight out of Unison’s 12 regions are headed by women. 

Not bad going for a union whose leader apparently sees gender issues as “divisive”.
Unison has always stood up for women, not only those who are members, but women in wider society too. For example, it’s Unison that is challenging the government’s employment tribunal fees, which have led to a virtual collapse in sex and maternity discrimination claims. The union is now taking its fight to the supreme court to make sure that all women are able to confront workplace injustice.
Given the insidious rise in sexism and misogyny in our society, Deborah Orr might have been better placed speaking to someone like myself who knows just how much Unison has done for working women. Then she might have been able to mention the positive measures that have been promoted by Unison under Dave Prentis’s leadership, instead of denigrating them.

Wendy Nichols
President, Unison"

Update: Check out this Unisonactive post for more stuff on Women in Unison

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Is this why the Tories hate trade unions?

Fascinating chart. Now, I know that not all Tories hate trade unions but none of their MPs voted against the Trade Union Bill second reading on Monday even though this is a basic democratic and human rights issue.

The chart shows that the income of the very rich (the so called "top 1%") falls as trade union membership rises and increases when trade union membership falls.

Unions are stronger when they have more members. When they have more members then their bargaining position with employers is stronger. Therefore, they can make sure that their members get better wages and a fairer share of the wealth. 

If the unions have lower numbers of members then they are not in such a strong bargaining position with employers and wages are reduced while the income of senior management and rich shareholders rocket upwards.

So encouraging trade unions rather than attacking them is not only about democracy and human rights but also about fairness and equality.

Hat tip Ravi S.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Housing Crisis (and what to do about it) TUC Congress 2015

 This was my speech I made late on Monday afternoon.

"Congress, President, John Gray UNISON moving Composite 2 on the Housing Crisis.

Congress, housing is a fundamental human right yet successive UK governments have failed to ensure that its citizens are adequately housed. The result is that the nation faces a desperate crisis - an acute shortage of housing, overcrowding and homelessness.

Decades of under-investment in housing have led to 1.5m fewer social and affordable homes for rent. This has pushed up rents and house prices and squeezed the incomes of citizens, with young people and families with children struggling to find a decent and affordable home to rent or buy.

As a consequence of the housing crisis, the nation faces the huge task of building at least 250,000 homes every single year to meet housing demand, but less than half of these homes are actually being built.

The shortage of social housing and the un-affordability of homeownership has also seen the private rented sector fail to deliver. We know that young people in particular have had a poor housing deal. Many of them are trapped in a cycle of expensive insecure, short-term lets in very poor and even unsafe housing.

While Government cuts to housing benefits and soaring rents have left thousands of people facing a housing benefit shortfall and at risk of rent arrears, evictions,homelessness and widespread financial hardship. In London, where I am a housing worker, welfare reforms have led to the social cleansing of many families who have fallen behind their rent payment. In England, homelessness has increased by 9% since 2014 and across the nation, 1.6m children live in temporary housing.

Congress, given the evidence that the number of social homes has declined dramatically, and given that the Government’s 2012 promise for 1-1 replacement of  stock sold under Right to Buy has been broken, it is incredible that the Government has announced proposals to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants in England. This will mean a worsened housing crisis with less social housing available.

The policy will also undermine the financial ability of housing associations to build and develop genuinely affordable housing, and it will also undermine the finances of local authorities forced to sell off ‘high value’ council housing to support the extension of the policy.

Congress, given the deepening housing crisis - soaring housing costs, reduced benefits, and a depleted social housing stock - there is clearly an urgent need for housing policies that recognise the need for more social and affordable housing, not less.

Government housing policies including ‘Right to Buy’, ‘Starter Homes’, ‘Help to Buy’ and ‘Pay to Stay’ do nothing to tackle the core housing problem, which is essentially a crisis of supply and affordability across all housing markets.

Their policies will likely lead to the death of the social housing sector as they risk taking money from it to support limited homeownership and sub market renting - and as a consequence there will be fewer social homes at social rents available, leaving thousands of people on low and middle incomes struggling to find a decent home they can afford to live in.

Congress, the solution. While UNISON is pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has just appointed John Healey as Shadow Housing Minister we can't just wait until 2020. The Government needs to significantly invest in housing now and commit to a national public housebuilding programme with local authorities and housing associations playing a significant role in its delivery to ensure we build the homes people need at prices and rents they can afford.

This composite sets out a programme of work that will enable us to campaign for further measures to tackle the housing crisis.

Such as

• Developing a coherent and consistent housing policy 
• Allowing local authorities to be set free to borrow to invest in council housing 
• Reform welfare policy and enable the transition from “benefits to bricks
• Effectively regulate the private rented sector and controls on rent

Such a programme makes sense economically. Building more homes of all types, will help create jobs and boost the economy. It will also reduce the cost of housing overall for everyone, leading to a lower Housing Benefit bill.

It will ensure people have access to a decent and secure housing that will give them the stability and security they need to raise their families in strong local communities. Finally, Congress. It is the right thing to do too, the mark of a civilised nation is one that ensures that its citizens are adequately housed.

Congress please support this composite. I move".

This issue touched a nerve and there was a wide ranging and at times passionate debate on the composite which ended in Congress voting unanimously in favour.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses TUC Congress 2015

Despite being elected as Labour Leader only four days ago, Jeremy Corbyn, travelled down to address Congress. When he appeared there was a genuine standing ovation before he said a word. The former NUPE official (a founder union of UNISON) started his speech by declaring that he has always been and sees himself as a trade unionist.

He announced that the Labour Party have had 30,000 new members since Saturday. Labour must become inclusive and welcoming.

After being elected he went to the "Refugees welcome" rally in London and the following day to a event in his constituency on ending the stigma of mental health.

His shadow cabinet has more women than men. A first in the UK.

He has appointed a shadow minister for Housing, John Healey, to deal with the "housing crisis". The "free market is not delivering" and there needs to be a "mass Council house building programme".

Jeremy wants the Party and the Labour movement to be "more democratic". More votes were cast for him than twice the total membership of the Tories.  We need to make policy together in this digital age and let everyone bring forward their views. If they are involved then people will own the policy and work to get it implemented.

He wants to go for the election in 2020 with no surprises but instead in 2020 offer certainties.

Jeremy reminisced when as a NUPE trade union official he asked for help in negotiations over time and motion arrangements from a union member who was good at betting. Since he knew the member would be naturally good at rapid mental arithmetic. His point was that ordinary people have talents. He then attacked the "elite who despise those who don't look or sound like them".

He sees trade unions as "an organic link" with the Party and praised the strikers from the National Gallery in London who were resisting privatisation (and also in the stalls at the back of Congress).

The Trade Union Bill was the Tories "declaring war on organised Labour". They claim to be champions of deregulation but the one thing that they want to regualate are the trade unions! It is as one Tory MP has described "a strategy of General Franco". When he is elected he will repeal this bill if passed.

Jeremy believes that the Bill is also contrary to Article 11 of the United Nations Human rights Charter and the International Labour Organisation conventions. Criminalising picketing? restricting free speech on social media? "What kind of intrusive society are they trying to create?"

We have to protect trade unionism. You get better management where the unions are strong. Where unions are weak you get poor job security and worse conditions. Why don't the Tories modernise balloting of members by allowing union workplace ballots to take place?

Why don't the Tories believe that workers should have a political voice? Why are they happy to accept hedge fund money yet are obsessed with the cleanest money in politics. That from the unions.

The welfare reform bill is disastrous and will have appalling consequences. People are committing suicide because of past reforms.

He has to leave after this speech to go back to London and vote against the bill to cut tax credits. Charities say that these cuts will cost a typical lone parent £1200 per year.

The Tories call us "deficit deniers". But they spend billions of pounds on tax breaks for millionaires. They are "poverty deniers". Austerity is a political choice.

He wants the Labour Party to be proud to campaign with trade unions and he wants unions to be proud to campaign with the Labour Party

Jeremy finished by pointing out that we are a rich but deeply unequal country and if he is elected he pledges to do something about it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

TUC Congress 2015: Sunday

This post is a little late but I had to prepare for a speech on Housing as well as some urgent work related union stuff today. Above are some pictures from the first day of this years TUC and some brief comments I posted on twitter and Facebook.
The Presidents address by Prospect union national officer, Leslie Manasseh, was interesting and thoughtful. He thinks that "our aim should be not to survive but to thrive and make a difference". To do so "we must have an honest debate and take stock".
I was pleasantly surprised to note that that early on there was some polite but open disagreement and debate on the conference floor about partnership arrangements between unions and employers.
Former Postman and CWU activist, Jim Kennedy, who is now also the Chair of the Labour Party NEC gave the traditional fraternal address to Congress. I saw Jim on Saturday give the result of the Labour leadership election at the Special conference in Westminster. (By coincidence Jim is related to my cousin by marriage)
Motion 15 on "Fair Internet for Performers" made me think. Why do musicians only get £0.46 out of every £9.99 per month subscription to Spotify?
1st Unison speaker so far at TUC Congress was, Becky Tye, from our Eastern region who spoke on social care (she is the branch secretary of Broadlands where many of my union members who work in East England belong to her branch)
          Motion 15 on "Fair Internet for Performers" made me think. Why do musicians only get £0.46             out of every £9.99 per month subscription to Spotify?
There was a great speech by Musicians Union activist & Redbridge Labour activist, Barbara White, on "why the arts are a public service".
Congress finishes for the day with a standing ovation for jailed Colombian trade unionist Huber Ballesteros following the showing of a video from him smuggled out of prison.
I was too tired to go to any fringes but the Unison delegation did meet up at 7.30pm for our conference social.  A good time I think was had by all.