Thursday, May 31, 2007

Home of Labour Party votes for Brown and Harman

West Ham CLP, where the first ever Labour MP, Kier Hardie, was elected in 1892, voted tonight to nominate Gordon Brown for Leader of the Labour Party and Harriot Harman to be the deputy. Gorden was nominated overwhelmingly and Harriot also won the deputy vote by a clear margin. Jon Cruddas was 2nd then Alan Johnson. There was a lively but good natured and comradely debate in an “all members” CLP meeting.

UPDATE: just heard that Tower Hamlets Labour Party voted to nominate (supportive) Brown as leader, and Jon Cruddas as deputy (Alan Johnson 2nd).

Battle of the Kruger

This, is on the face of things, off message, however it also reminds me of the join UNISON “Polar Bear’s and Ants” TV adverts of a few years back. UNISON had to pull the advert since viewers were found to identify with the Polar Bear's (the “bosses”) rather than the Ant's (the workers). UNISON now has a new very good “one in a million” advert.
However, please watch this entire “my space” video link (sorry I haven’t worked out yet out to put a video on my blog directly – anyone got a step by step advice for "blogger" on how?). I know that people email us “this is great “links” all the time. Believe me this is honestly the most amazing wildlife film I have ever seen and does have a trade union message (of sorts). Watch all of it! Sound on. You will not "get" it otherwise. UNISON are obviously water buffalo - Which one is Dave? the baby? polite comments please - Hat trick thingy to my South African cousin-in-law “mine’s a cold one” Peter.

UNISON Labour Link endorse Brown & Johnson

UNISON Labour Link National Committee have voted unanimously to make a supporting nomination for Gordon Brown as Leader.

Alan Johnson was nominated as Deputy Leader (Peter Hain to have 2nd preference).

This is a recommendation (all levy payers will have a postal vote). Will post some thoughts later.

Excellent news for UNISON and the Labour Party.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Salford, Stratford and Bow Belles: Deputy Leadership Meetings

Excuse the probably sexist pun – Tonight there was the second event organised by West Ham CLP (sponsored by London UNISON Labour Link) in Stratford to meet Deputy Leadership candidates. Last Wednesday we had Hilary, Jon and Harriet. Tonight it was the turn of Alan, Peter and Hazel. First picture is of Hazel with local MP Lyn Brown MP and Rushanara Ali, the new Labour Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow (to take on Galloway’s) Again, I was acting as a steward (and self appointed CLP photographer), so I only picked up bits and pieces.

Each candidate had 10 minutes followed by a Q&A. Peter was “proud” to have sent his children to a comprehensive in the middle of a South London Council estate. He spoke about his background in the anti apartheid movement and his recent work promoting peace in Northern Ireland. He pointed out that all the candidates had voted in favour of the War in Iraq.

Alan, the only candidate to have left school at 15, he said that the Labour Party was only able achieve things (minimum wage) since it had stopped being losers and started wining general elections. He wanted the 21 century to be one dominated by the progressive left, not as was the case in the 20 century, the regressive right. Controversially, in response to a question, he was the only candidate to indicate that we should consider some type of “amnesty” for illegal migrants while the others were opposed. He recognised that there were difficulties (encouraging further illegal immigration etc) but he thought it was a trade union principle. Peter thought if we adopted this we could lose an election on this point alone.

Hazel started off by saying this is the first hustings she had been to that she had been given a “lollypop” (courtesy of UNISON). Her main thrust was she wanted to be an organising and campaigning deputy leader. Labour will only win the next election through “discipline, unity and loyalty”. If Cameron and the Tories win they will cut through vulnerable people like a knife through butter. She was firmly in favour of Academies which she said had transformed a school in one of the toughest wards in her constituency.

I did note that all the candidates supported (to a lesser or greater degree) Councils being allowed to build social housing. Alan was probably the most enthusiastic. They all stressed their trade union backgrounds. They left at 9.15pm to rush to the “Newsnight” Deputy Leadership live debate. We then had a raffle (tickets picked by Rushanara). After packing and clearing up we then ended up in the pub “The Goose” in Stratford.

Monday, May 28, 2007

See No Evil: Diss-Respectful hypocrisy?

Former Tower Hamlets Respect councillor, Wais Islam, makes a damning attack on “Respect” in this week’s East End Advertiser (24 May 06 page 12 “Off you Chest” - can’t find an Internet link yet). One of the reasons he gave for leaving Respect and joining Labour was that “George Galloway and Respect should practice what they preach. They call on the Town Hall to employ ethic minorities and make accusations of “institutional racism”…. Yet Respects own employees are mostly non-ethnic minority. How hypocritical”. He points out that the (predominantly white) Socialist Workers Party stopped a Bangladeshi businessman, Azmal Hussein, from standing as the chair of Tower Hamlets Respect last year. Note also the SWP white candidate for the 2008 mayor of London election.

His defection is not the only “problem” for the beleagued “Respect”. Kumar Murshid (above centre), former Asian Affairs advisor to Ken Livingston, announced that he was leaving Labour for Respect. Kumar, a former Tower Hamlets Councillor was recently cleared of corruption charges. He somehow blames the local Labour Party for the criminal charges. However, he waited until his attempt to become the next Labour Party candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow, had failed (not a single nomination) before announcing he would leave Labour for Respect.

What is really interesting and I think potentially the long awaited death nail of “Respect” in Tower Hamlets, came out in an embarrassing interview, he and Galloway gave to the BBC. It has long been rumoured that the only reason that most of the (complete and utter non-socialist) Bangladeshi Respect councillors, have not left Respect is that Galloway had always claimed that he would not stand for re-election and that the future candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow would be one of these Respect councillors. However, since Kumar (his old mate) has now joined Respect, Galloway now says that Kumar could be the Respect candidate by saying “yes definitely, one of the strongest possibilities”.

The Bangladeshi community took the SWP for mugs in last years Council elections in Tower Hamlets and Newham. They got the SWP money and volunteers to run the elections, yet not a single white SWP councillor was elected. Even in what should have been “safe” Respect wards, the community voted for Asian candidates of any Party rather than white SWPers.

However, it seems that they now want their revenge by imposing their own candidate for the next general election. Expect trouble at mill…
Guest Post: Neil T.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Guest Poster: Benn, Harman and Cruddas at West Ham

By Richard B
Last Wednesday West Ham CLP organised the first of two deputy leader debates. In Stratford we had Hilary Benn, Jon Cruddas and Harriet Harman. We have the others this week (Tuesday).

Congratulations to West Ham activists, Lyn Brown MP and her team for the organisation and UNISON-Labour Link for stumping up some cash. I think West Ham is one of the few CLPs that has organised events with all the candidates. Shows what you can do with everyone working together! The meeting was chaired by Conor McAuley (West Ham CLP Chair) who chaired the meeting in a professional and balanced way.

Below I will give my general impressions of the debate. I will declare an interest as I had Cruddas leanings before the meeting and was likely to vote for him with my first preference before the meeting. Although I do have a lot of time for Harriet as she was one of the few MPs that turned up at one of the “Justice for Cleaners” rallies at Canary Wharf (I recognise her TGWU family connection). Likewise Hilary has attempted to move the agenda on over international aid and comes across as a human being

My initial impression was that all the candidates seem to suffering from campaign fatigue and looked tired. However their opening 10 minute speeches were well presented and they then answered a range of questions from Iraq to heat islands (don’t ask). There was a high level of agreement that the party needs “renewal” and is not “fit for purpose”. On this point I do find it interesting that two cabinet ministers seem to give the impression that they were not around as the party was run into the ground. Will this change under Brown?

I thought that Harriet was slightly lacklustre and seems to be campaigning as Gordon’s preferred number two “I have worked with him for 20 years”. I am also not sure that I buy in to her argument that she will resonate with southern swing voters. Having been brought up in a seat in London during the 1970s and 80s, that went Tory in 1983 and back to Labour in 1997 I am not convinced. I broadly agree with the argument about a woman in the position (I supported an AWSL in West Ham) but I think this is outweighed by other issues. When Harriet was speaking suddenly the picture of Shirley Williams and her hectoring tones appeared in my minds eye. Shouldn’t renewal mean policy not image? On Iraq Harriet did call for an immediate withdrawal which surprised me. Does Gordon know?

In my opinion Hilary started slowly but got better as he got going. He was the only candidate to mention Warwick “We need Warwick Two” and international issues other than Iraq. He showed some real passion and commitment and I left with a more positive impression of him than I started with. I think overall he answered the questions with the greatest detail.

Jon has actually thought deeply about what renewal means and has a programme for bringing back lost voters in policy and practical terms. Maybe he is still a bit vague on other policy issues but has passion and can enthuse people. The dig from other candidates that the position also means deputising for the Prime Minister in the Commons and abroad which seems aimed at Jon doesn’t hold up. I know about the suspicions of Jon’s “tack to the left” but in my opinion he can energise the party and I think resonate with voters that have deserted us. I left very enthusiastic about Jon.

Overall I thought Jon came over the best at our first debate. In a highly unscientific poll afterwards (but with people who were going to support each of the candidates before or were undecided) Jon went down very well and Hilary impressed me. Roll on Tuesday.
Richard B.

grayee: If anyone else who was there wants to post a different view let me know.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Labour Left Forum already has first “splitters and wreckers”

Less than 48 hours after the formation of a new hard left blog - “Labour Left Forum” they have already had their first split! The “Editor” censured a post title by a member over the Labour Party deputy leadership contest. A new member quite rightly objected to this and it ended up with him leaving the forum. He didn't follow the "line". See comments below.

"Clarification of the Labour Left Forum editorial guidelines"
Show Original Post
Collapse comments
Owen said...
"I only did this in order to maintain the "LLF" line of total impartiality in the ongoing Deputy Leadership contest..."Mikael, my impression was that this isn't a political faction - it's just a discussion forum for those on the Labour Left. If, however, there are certain lines dictated by yourself that you expect everyone to follow, than I'm afraid that I'm going to have to excuse myself from this forum. Sorry.
26 May 2007 16:17
Mikael said...
That's right, again. I will change the word "line", in the post, to "guideline". The only "line", in this case, is that no Deputy Leadership contender should be promoted on any post. That is the only line. If you cannot stick to it, then yes, you will have to excuse. Having said that, I hope you understand that this is for everyone's benefit. If I am not wrong, you once defended Cruddas against some criticism on my part.
26 May 2007 16:57
Mikael said...
It should have said:The only "line", in this case, is that no Deputy Leadership contender should be promoted as the official candidate of the forum-members on any post .
26 May 2007 17:05
Owen said...
Mikael,I've got absolutely no interest in promoting any deputy leadership candidate. That's not actually what I was getting at. My point was that, if you're going to start imposing political lines and treating this as a political faction rather than a discussion forum, it's not actually going to work. There's a difference between a guideline (e.g. avoid abuse, stay comradely in debate etc), and an arbitrary political line from yourself that you expect everyone to follow - especially if you start editing people's posts. Furthermore, it sets a precedent where you will, presumably, continue to issue other lines on other questions.But anyway, in the most comradely manner possible, I won't now be taking part in this forum so please do remove my email address.
26 May 2007 17:14
Mikael said...
Strange decision, Owen. It discussed with other members of the forum who agreed that it would be best not to discuss the leadership election to any greater length - this doesn't mean that it cannot be discussed at all; simply that it shouldn't be THE topic, whixh it seems to have become on other "Labour Left" blogs. The idea was to discuss policy, strategy, programme etc.As I said, I changed the title. It wasn't decision that I took lightly, but since it appeared at the top of the page, I did want it to sound more conciliatory. Wrong, perhaps, but Grim was free to change it back. She didn't (really) do so, if she had well, frankly, that would have been fine. If you go back to the comment you will see that I asked her for permission."My point was that, if you're going to start imposing political lines and treating this as a political faction rather than a discussion forum, it's not actually going to work."I wouldn't call it a "line" as such, simply, it was a way to make sure that the debate wasn't overtaken by the Deputy Leadership contest, which is what has happened in other blogs. " Furthermore, it sets a precedent where you will, presumably, continue to issue other lines on other questions."Sorry, Owen, but that's sort of an extreme suggestion. Honestly, I think it's deliberately provocative and quite insulting. Given that you have requested to leave the forum, fine, I will delete your account. I hope you will come back at a later stage.
26 May 2007 17:26
Curlew said...
This is why I had hoped that we could have a LRC members only site. We can only freely criticise each other/contenders etc etc if it is a closed forum. Otherwise we are seen as "there's the left bickering amongst each other" yet again.It would be fantastic if we could all follow John MCDonnell's example and keep it to POLICY and not mention personalities.Sometimes the paranoid in me thinks people infiltrate to upset the applecart - but I guess it is just human nature ;-)Owen come back - the struggle for the left is more important than this issue.
26 May 2007 17:31
Mikael said...
Curlew,There is a possiblity of restricting the "forum" to its members which I briefly contemplated before setting it up. I would personally be against it, since that would prevent it from growing. To a certain extent, that is already with the "no anonymous comments" option, which is active on this forum."Otherwise we are seen as "there's the left bickering amongst each other" yet again."That is why I would prefer to "stay out" of the Deputy Leadership contest. As you know, Labour Rightists are rubbing their hands as we speak due to the amount of ink wasted by good Labour Left comrades slagging of Cruddas - for whom I have no particular sympathy.What do you think? Should I restrict this forum to members only? My "gut feeling" is that I ought not to.
26 May 2007 17:40
Curlew said...
I'd like to keep it open too, but we must remember that the opposition are watching all the time and we don't want to provide them with bullets.Net Nanny :-) (aka Curlew)
26 May 2007 17:57
Mikael said...
:-) I'll ask Duncan, without whose encouragements I couldn't have set up the forum to begin with, for his opinion.Until then, I'll leave it open, but restricted to those possessing a "google account" - that should limit the damage, for a while. :-)Comradely,Mikael
26 May 2007 18:03
marshajane said...
Hi all just to add my tuppenth worth.I don't think you should have changed the title of susans blog - this is a discussion blog with a variety if different contributors and opinions.Perhaps add a disclaimer @ the top of the page saying LLF is a number of individuals with differing views.Were not a faction to be endorsing DL candidates but that doesn't stop us posting with headlines like - y I'm not backing cruddas or y I'm backing benn - it starts off discussion.Also I don't think we should be members only - we should air our differences comradly in public - yes some may say oh the left bickering again. But that's not what it is its a discussion and we are all individuals with different views.(That's what makes us different from the careerist toe the line right wingers)I think if this LLF is to grow we shouldn't have any restrictions on what we post or that any one person should have editorial control over contributors (unless its to remove persona, uncomradely or abusive posts)RegardsMj
26 May 2007 18:51
Mikael said...
Hey Marsha,I agree - this is an open Labour Left forum - and I regret Owen's decision. I tried to disuade not once, but twice. I don't think that my editing of Susan's title was reason enough to leave and I sincerely hope he comes back. As far as Susan's post is concerned, I would have changed it back to normal if she had asked me to. She did not - in fact, the very same post appears on her own blog with another title altogether - "The Cruddas Question". If you ask me, it is the best of the 4 titles that the entry in question has had during these last 12 hours. The Cruddas issue was beginning to "grind my beans", so to speak, and I didn't want to be bombarded by a myriad of comments from "soft-Left"-types, claiming that the entries, let alone the debate, was uncomradely - I hope you see what I mean. Of course, I know - and you know, and Owen knows - that no-one intends to be deliberately uncomradely; I was simply trying to remove a title which could have been decried as uncomradely by others. Unfortunately, though it was in no way my intention, my action was seen as "uncomradely" (though not by susan, apparently) and that is what I regret the most. The present title will stand however - again, in light of the fact that Susan hasn't complained.The forum will be kept open, come what may - for the moment, I hope that's final.
26 May 2007 19:04

UPDATE from grayee: the whole post has now been "deleted" (or should I say vapourised?) from the Labour Left blog.

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary."

Islington North CLP Nominate Brown and Harman as Leaders

Interesting – just noticed unionfutures report that Islington North CLP "arguably a contender for the leftist CLP in the UK" , whose MP Jeremy Corbyn nominated and campaigned for McDonnell. Voted at a “all members” meeting on Thursday to endorse the nomination of Brown for Leader and to nominate Harriet Harman as deputy Leader . I can’t confirm this anywhere else, the CLP website has not been updated yet. However, Andrew Berry, the CLP trade union liaison officer appears to verify this (by claiming in a “comment” that “all members” meeting are in someway “undemocratic” - hmmm?)

I think we can safely say that if somewhere like Islington North (Jeremy was comfortably reselected as their MP recently) supports Brown, then the nonsense we have been subjected to recently about the real “membership” supporting McDonnell is just wishful thinking – at best. Talk about “New Labour” spin. This is further evidence to me anyway, that the Party has really changed not just the PLP.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Harriet, Hilary and Jon strut their stuff in West Ham

A bit of Westminster village came to the East End last night (only 150m from a real “Albert Square” E15). Lyn Brown MP and West Ham CLP has organised two hustings for deputy leadership candidates. (Sponsored by London UNISON Labour Link). These are not nationally organised Labour Party or socialist society events. The candidates couldn't attend the same night, so we organised two meetings, the first was last night. It is I think good for the party that a local CLP (with the enthusiastic support of its MP and her hard working parliamentary assistants – and UNISON of course) can organise and run such events. On Tuesday 29th 7.30pm doors open /8.00pm start, same location, same time, there will be Peter Hain (now confirmed), Alan Johnson and Hazel Blears. The West Ham CLP Chair is Cllr Conor McAuley (standing above).

There were about 100 people present. Which was not bad considering it was European cup final thingy. It was good to see a lot of trade union levy payers attend and participate. London Assembly member John Biggs had written to all UNISON members who lived in West Ham inviting them. It was held in the main assembly hall of Sarah Bonnell (Girls secondary) – now a “specialist language college” which is a state school which traces its route back to 1777. A Sarah Bonnell left £3,500 in her will for the setting up of a school for "poor girls" in West Ham. The School was also open to a wide range of community groups that night.

It was nice to see all the candidates arrive in the same way as ordinary members. No big government limos. I had to go and find Harriet who had been dropped off at the wrong end of the school. As was Jon, it’s a big site, with an interesting one way system outside. Hilary was the only one who managed to park directly outside the main entrance of the school (car radio tuned to the football).

All the stewards were wearing “UNISON steward” armbands. Which I think lead to some candidates to think that we were picketing!

As one of the stewards (and general “headless chicken” gofer) I did not really have a chance to listen properly to the speeches and the response to questions. My impression was that all of them had a different take on the job; however, they all performed very well. A comrade who was present did say he would write something up on the candidates performance. I’m always welcome to post sensible stuff. If not I will gave a go after Tuesday.

The next husting will take on Tuesday 29 May, same time, same location.

Many thanks to the top Sarah Bonnell Community caretakers and the Community development manager.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Better Safety, Better Services

Good turn out at safety protest held yesterday at Tower Hamlets new “Homeless Persons Unit”. The protest was staged at the opening of the unit to protest at the removal of safety screen for staff (see post). Management are refusing to budge. We should now move to ballot members for strike action. I will post a copy of Mick Holders (London Hazards) critical report on the new office and my own trade union safety inspection report on union reps “health & safety” in next few days. Other safety reps can possibly use, if their employers are inappropriately threatening to remove security screens from front line services. Will keep you updated.

Reminder - East London Deputy Leadership Debates 23 & 29 May

Lyn Brown MP, West Ham CLP and London UNISON “Labour Link” invite you to

Two Deputy Leadership Debates

Both at Sarah Bonnell School, Deanery Road, Stratford, E15 4LP. (click on link for map) 10 minutes walk from Statford Station (via Deanery Road) and free on site car parking (enter Manby Street only).

Debate 1 Wednesday 23rd May 2007 (7:30pm for 8:00pm start)
Confirmed speakers Harriot Harman, Jon Cruddas, Hilary Benn

Debate 2 Tuesday 29th May 2007 (7:30pm for 8:00pm start)
Confirmed Speakers Peter Hain, Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears

Time for Questions - Collection and Raffle
All Labour Party members and political fund-paying members of affiliated Trade Unions welcome.

Monday, May 21, 2007

LQ Social Slum landlord of the Year?

On Saturday I helped out at our local Labour MP, Lyn Brown, “Community Coffee Morning” for residents of Green Street West ward, (West Ham CLP London). All the ward councillors are currently (paper) members of “disRespect”. Their only ward in Newham. Since the disRespect councillors are non functioning, there was a lot of non-parliamentary case work which I could help out with.

Two tenants of London & Quadrant, a big registered social landlord (housing association, which manages nearly 50, 000 homes, mostly in London and the South East), arrived independently of each other, to ask for help over about the management of their block (definitively not the picture on the left) of 11 flats, which L&Q runs.

They complained that street prostitutes used the secluded rear car park of the block for “business” and local youths to smoke drugs. Also, that the letter boxes for residents were being constantly broken into and post stolen. Lyn promised to write to LQ.

Being an Estate officer (and therefore an instinctive cynic – shame on me) I decided to stop off on the way home and check things out at the block. I must admit that I was pretty horrified on what I found. The car park at the rear of the block was insecure and secluded, obviously perfect for anti-social behaviour of all sorts. However, it was the condition and position of tenant's post boxes that made me stand and stare. They were on an external wall facing the rear car park. There appeared to be no security apart from some low power communal bulk heads (lights). The post boxes were cheap and nasty. Any 15 year old with a screwdriver could jemmy them open (as you can see) under cover of darkness.

Now, I will admit that my own estate (an inner London council housing estate) is not perfect and has its “problems”. However, it is clear that these LQ tenants do not have what we most of us take for granted, a safe and secure postal service. They are effectively disfranchised from a big chunk of every day life.

The tenants praised the local LQ staff but felt that they were unsupported by senior management and constantly being changed (always a sign of organisational problems)

The letter boxes need to be either repositioned inside the block (protected by the door entry system?), or much better protected or maybe there should be individual letter plates to each flat front door? I will also write to LQ about this stupid situation on behalf of the ward “Labour Action” team. Also copy to top Labour GLA member, John Biggs, who I have no doubt will be equally unimpressed. LQ need to get their act together.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Health & Safety protest – Monday 21 May Bethnal Green

(UNISON branch press release) “Tomorrow morning Tower Hamlets staff will be protesting at the lack of a screened reception at the new council Homeless Unit (sorry this is late - see my previous post on this issue)

“Whilst they welcome the bright and friendly reception area in a more accessible location for local people, they are concerned about the lack of safety screens. An independent Health and Safety report confirmed the unions (UNISON and GMB) fears that the low unscreened reception disks represent a real safety risk.

A UNISON spokesperson said "We want to give the best service possible to Homeless People. Unfortunately over recent years the Council and government policy have seen Council homes sold off and inadequate building of social housing. Rules on providing homes for homeless have got tougher and tougher. Inevitably in a minority of cases the understandable frustrations of homeless people, sometimes facing desperate circumstances, are taken out on staff they see. There have been dangerous incidents in the past. We believe a screened environment provides safety for staff, and enables them to provide the best service possible for local people".

What this means in real money is that staff trying to give a good service in very difficult circumstance are going to be at much greater risk of serious assault (or worse). Screens have been removed and there is no adequate protection for staff from being assaulted by clients. If management do not provide a safe working environment there will be a ballot for strike action. We have got no choice.

Picture above is of HPU safety reps Mohammed Yunis (GMB), Agnes Rogers (UNISON) and Kieran Floyd (UNISON) with management during the inspection last Wednesday.

I'll post what happened tomorrow.

“Building Stronger Unions - organising in the context of global capital”

On Thursday I spent an interesting few hours at the “Union Idea’s Network” (UIN) first ever conference, held in London Metropolitan University. About 100 people attended, seemed to be a mix of trade union representatives and academics. Quite a few young people and a very high proportion of women (unlike most trade union meetings I attend). The UIN is the “online website, supported by the TUC, bringing together trade unionists and academics to exchange ideas and information to stimulate debate and support action” (TUC).

I think UIN was only set up last year, the on-line forum doesn’t seem to be very active but it is early days. It has 960 registered users on its website. There is a fair amount of useful articles, research and information available as well. Mostly though written by academics for academics. There is a desperate need for new ideas and new ways of thinking in the Trade Union movement. We have got to evolve or die.

The conference was aptly called “Building Stronger Unions - organising in the context of global capital”. TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady was the keynote speaker. Below are some extracts from her speech that I found particularly important to think about.

'None of us should underestimate just how dramatically globalisation is reshaping capitalism, nor the profound implications this must have for how unions must organise” …. “growing popularity of new forms of pirate capital exempt from rules of the game, including private equity, hedge funds and the appropriately named vulture funds”…. “Now - more than ever - we need to think globally and act globally” …'Perhaps the only way unions can stand up to the multinationals is by taking them on at their own game”….'Unions also need to reach out to all workers. Moving beyond traditional union strongholds, to create new union bases for the future” Finally
'But though global economic change represents a huge challenge for us, it also signals a genuine opportunity. We may not be able to stop globalisation, but we can work to shape it to progressive ends both here in the UK and internationally, articulating a compelling alternative vision of the global economy rooted in workers' real concerns. One based around decent work, opportunity for all, and the case for investment in housing, healthcare, childcare, transport and education. A vision of an economy that treats people as human beings, not just human resources.

I think she is convinced that if we properly organise we can restrain and even shape Globalisation.

Doug Miller from the ITGLWF and Paula Hamilton from the ITWF spoke about the complex supply trains of multinational companies. Doug mentioned that NIKE has at least 700 suppliers. He called for Multinational “buyers” to take affirmative action to promote trade unions in sub-contractors, not to just passively support “free association” of labour. They should insist in contracts there is a clause against victimisation of factory trade union organising committees. Paula spoke of the frustration many trade unions felt since the real “employer” of workers refused to talk to them directly and they had to deal with 3rd parties all the time. For example, Marks and Spencer’s design, price, specify materials, approve subcontractors, insist on certain suppliers etc for their clothing suppliers. They, not the actual owners of the clothing factories are the real employers of the factory workforce.

I was slightly disappointed that the potential importance of workers capital (trade union members pension funds and other collective investment. Often we are the owners of companies that exploit workers) wasn’t recognised. Trade unions need to do more work on this issue.

Professor Jeremy Waddington, Manchester University and Bronwyn McKenna, Director of Organising and Membership, UNISON talked about “Organising in Europe”. I was amazed on the low level of trade union membership in France. I think Jeremy said it was only 8%, with only about 4% in the private sector. Despite this, trade union demonstrations in Paris sometimes attract more marchers than the entire national membership. It there some sort of trade off – the lower the level of membership, the higher the level of mobilisation? Bronwyn talked about the future being strategic alliances between European trade unions not mergers. There are two many legal, organisational and political differences to overcome. Flexible alliances are needed.

Professor Jane Wills, Queen Mary, University of London and Martin Smith, National Organiser, GMB talked about Organising amongst low paid and subcontracted workers

Ken Livingstone and the GLA have introduced a London Living wage for his staff and contractors. This is now £7.20 per hour. There are estimated to be 400, 000 workers in London who earn less than that. Jane phrased the work of London Citizens. Martin took part in a survey of “sweat shops” in Tower Hamlets about 5 years ago. It discovered widespread exploitation of local garment workers. Many had thought that the sweat shops had been priced out by overseas competitors. For basic manufacturing this is true but for “finishing work” it is still often more effective to carry this out close to the final market. Especially if you exploit the workers. The GMB are thinking about carrying out another survey.

There was practically no discussion about the role of trade union “Political” power or campaigning. Strange in one way seen this was the day after McDonnell conceded defeat in the Labour leadership. In questions I did point out that despite the obvious problems and tensions, it was still in the interests of trade unions to support the Labour Party. I used the example of what would happen to the GLA “Living wage” if Ken is kicked out in the elections next year and the Tories take control? I think everyone present knew the answer. Surprisingly my point went down quite well.

In all a very good conference and I would recommend trade unionists have a look at the UIN website and consider attending any future events.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Leadership Elections: Treachery, Forgery or Hogwash ?

Did someone forge Marsha Singh signature on a nomination paper for John McDonnell? Why are some of JM supporters waging vicious and very personal “Kamikaze" attacks against Jon Cruddas? Rumour mill is going into overdrive, I have been doing some digging but as a Westminster village outsider, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of such reports. But they do reflect what many people appear to believe.

Marsha Singh is reported in the Guardian and the Telegraph & Argus (Pinkie and Perky) to claim that he only signed a nomination paper for Michael Meacher and that the nomination paper that was sent in apparently from him for McDonnell was forged. He clearly denies ever signing for McDonnell. Many Meacher MP supporters (I use the term “many” in the strictest literal sense, as more than 3 or even how many can you fit into a telephone booth sense… ) now claims that they were so angry at this “forgery” that this is the reason why they refused to back McDonnell. Hmmm.

Grimupnorth (my best ever mate comrade) claims (without linking the source?) that Alan Simpson MP and Mike Wood MP, state that it was "agreed" to transfer the “vote”? Not sure how this could happen unless this is an admission that they did forge his signature (at best thinking they had his “permission”) or that Marsha Singh is lying and that he signed two sets of nominations – one for Meacher and one for McDonnell (and then one for Brown?).

Grayee best guessimate is that someone did forge his Marsha Singh signature thinking that this was a little “white lie” since he had offered his support to Meacher and Meacher had urged his supporters to support McDonnell.

The plot thickens about the abuse that poor old Jon Cruddas is getting from some far left sites (I can link if you want). The unspoken reason is apparently this – Jon “promised” to nominate McDonnell for leader (if true a “coup”) if McDonnell supporters voted for him as deputy leader. A number (refer to definition of “many” above) of McDonnell supporters did nominate Jon.

The accusation is that Jon deliberately broke this deal and once he got the votes for deputy leader he then voted for Brown.

Grayee best guessiestimate is that Jon did wait a little while to nominate Brown for Leader. However, I cannot believe that someone with his political talents would ever agree to support McDonnell in return for their votes. Maybe there was a cock-up or maybe there was wishful thinking? Maybe this is just bitter recriminations against a “Left” candidate who was actually nominated?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Leadership Elections: The Story So Far?

Interesting results so far. It appears that McDonnell (I’m going to try to be as objective as possible – probably not successfully) is struggling to get 45 nominations. Which I find fascinating. If the “Hard-ish Left” cannot even get 12.5% of PLP nominations (and I think that each MP can actually nominate up to 3 candidates) then I think we may be seeing something momentous happening. This could be Blair’s lasting legacy to the Party?

Still, wait and see. Perhaps he is holding back support to build up media interest? (Surely no politician could be so naive?). I must admit that I don’t see many of the “usual suspects” missing from the list of his declared supporters who actually filled out and returned nomination forms.

Personally I would have loved there to have been a real contest for the Leadership. Peter Hain would have made a convincing opponent to Gordon Brown. A conviction Blairite could also have posed a real, meaningful challenge. McDonnell would be better than nothing. But, assuming he manages to get enough nominations to stand. It is clear (to me anyway) that there he has no widespread support and the “Hard Left” is completely marginalised in the Party. MP’s would not dare to ignore their CLP’s or trade union affiliates if they felt that there was any significant support for McDonnell.

So, in one way it would be pointless to have a “contest for the stake of a contest”, since the real test of Labour Party opinion will not happen because Brown is not facing a mainstream “left” or “right” challenge.

So Hazel, Peter, Harriet and Alan have enough nominations. I assume that Jon will get one more nomination? Maybe the debate about the future direction of the Party will take place in the deputy leadership election?

UNISON National Labour Link committee meet tomorrow to decide on who (or if) to recommend to members. UNISON has made it clear that no-one but this committee will make recommendations on behalf of “Labour Link”. There is no trade union “block” vote and UNISON levy payers will have a secret ballot to vote for candidates.

However, the unions will be influential. The sensible announcement that UNISON and GMB (together they have in membership about a third of the 3.3 million trade unionists who will have a vote!) are working together to “maximise” influence over the leadership elections also seems to me to be another indication that we might be on the road to merger.

Nominations update - 6pm Tuesday 15 May (From Labour Party website).

Candidates for the leadership and deputy leadership of the Labour Party have received the following number of nominations as of 6pm on Tuesday 15 May.

Candidates for Leader of the Labour Party
Gordon Brown
282 nominations
John McDonnell
27 nominations

Candidates for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Hilary Benn
34 nominations
Hazel Blears
48 nominations
Jon Cruddas
44 nominations
Peter Hain
49 nominations
Harriet Harman
60 nominations
Alan Johnson
64 nominations