Friday, June 29, 2007

Engaged Investor Awards 2007 (and possible pension industrial dispute)

First “pension” awards ceremony I have ever been to and I really enjoyed it. A sign of age maybe, but I now tend to know a few people at such events which makes a difference. There was no “hard sell “by sponsors either.
It was held on the “Silver Barracuda”, Savoy Pier, a London Thames restaurant ship.

Everything seemed to go off smoothly despite the bombs found early on that morning in central London. It did pour down with rain at the start and I got soaked walking to the ship from Temple underground.

Picture of top UNISON Pension trustee and national treasure, Stan Edwards ,(above right National Grid Pension scheme) who was judging in the award. Also, next picture (below left) is of Pete Davis from the Prudential who is on the national (TUC nominated) Pension Trustee panel. They meet up on a regular basis with the Pensions minister (who we are still waiting to be announced due to the reshuffle). Next year we ought to organise trustees to make nominations to such awards.

On my table I sat with Peter Vercoe who is a trustee with Carnaud Metal Box group. He won the runner up award for Trustee of the Year. There were also two members of staff from the Pensions Trust who were very pleasant and knowledgeable. Even though I did upset them somewhat about my dismay over the Social Housing Pension Fund (SHPS - which is part of their group).

I am holding a meeting next week with UNISON members of a housing association where they are trying to replace the SHPS 1/60th final pension scheme with a vastly inferior CARE (career average) scheme. Trouble at Mill – I am certain that my members will not be happy with accepting what amounts in the long run as a massive cut in their terms and conditions. Watch this space.

Gordon and my bottle of red, red wine

Tonight I am busy polishing off a bottle of House of Commons “Pinot Noir”, allegedly signed by Gordon Brown (see picture). In 2005 I went to the general election campaign launch of Poplar & Canning Town MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, in Trussler Hall, Poplar, E14. There was of course the inevitable Labour Party raffle. I think it was Jim who called out the tickets. To my surprise my raffle ticket was pulled out and Jim announced that the prize was a choice between either a bottle of House of Commons white wine, signed by Tony Blair or a bottle of red wine, signed by Gordon Brown. There was a momentary silence while I made up my mind.

At the time I pledged to only drink the bottle when Gordon became Prime Minister. The bottle is now being rapidly drained with my better half as I blog (real time).

BTW – there was a huge cheer when I chose Red

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tower Hamlets joins Local Authority Pension Fund Panel

This will not be very thrilling news to most folk. Please bear with me. For the past 10 years or so, as a scheme member and staffside pension’s rep I have been trying to persuade the Council to join the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF).

I’m just back from the Pension & Accounts committee and I am really pleased to report that tonight the committee decided to sign up for the LAPFF. Now most people would have clicked off this post as soon as they saw the words “committee” and “pension”. Never mind “LAPFF” (which is a bit of a mouthful). However, the local government pension scheme (LGPS) is not only about paying members retirement benefits it is also probably the biggest collective funded pension scheme in the Country (3.5 million members and £100 billion plus investments). It is therefore a major investor (and owner) in almost all British and major international companies. It is split into 99 locally administered schemes.

By “funded” I mean that workers and employers’ pension contributions are invested mainly in the stock markets (shares in companies), bonds (loans to companies or governments), property (usually collective trusts) or cash (deposit accounts, money markets). Some pension schemes to not invest their contributions but operate a “pay as you go” system. Benefits paid to current pensioners are funded by the contributions of current workers and employers e.g. the NHS pension scheme.

Most of the money invested in funded pension schemes such as the LGPS is invested in companies, if you own shares in any company this makes you an owner of that company. If you own part of a company you therefore have a responsibility as an owner of that company to make sure that this company is properly run. This responsibility does not conflict with any legal duty to ensure that investment returns are maximised since it is accepted that companies which are run properly and have responsible investors perform better than companies which do not. This is just commons sense.

To my mind “properly run” means for example making sure that the companies we own do not exploit child labour, are not anti-trade union, ensure their employees (and sub-contractors) work in safe and healthy conditions, do not damage the environment and are open, honest and transparent organisations. See previous posts.

The Tower Hamlets LGPS is worth over £700 million at the moment. A huge amount of money, but in pension terms it is a minnow. To exercise your right of ownerships effectively with that amount of money is not really feasible. You simply do not have enough shares to be listened to by company bosses. However, if the Tower Hamlets scheme was to collectively combine with other LGPS schemes (via the LAPFF which represents some £40 billion of assets) then we would have potentially a significant degree of influence to try and ensure that our companies are properly run.

I would urge all LGPS join LAPFF (41 now out of 99). Not only is it a campaigning organisation and runs well respected training events but it is an opportunity for Councillors (and member nominated representatives) to meet up with other LGPS members up and down the country to share experiences and improve their schemes.What I feel is positive is that my pension scheme will be able to join up with other LGPS schemes and use its collective strength to try and make sure that our duties as owners are carried out in accordance with our legal obligations, accepted good practice and our social responsibilities.

Thanks to (Labour) Cllr Bill Turner (Chair), Cllr Joshua Peck, Cllr Shafiqul Haque and Cllr Waiseul Islam.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

West Ham plays away at House of Commons

Last night we held our monthly West Ham CLP campaign meeting but instead of the usual venue at Party HQ in Stratford, E15 (a.k.a as the “Pie shop” since in a previous life it had indeed been a traditional East End "Pie & Mash" shop). Our MP, Lyn Brown, kindly offered to host the meeting on the terrace of the House of Commons.

The weather held, and it was really pleasant. The terrace was quite packed, obviously the evening before a New Prime Minister takes over and the defection that day of Tory, Quentin Davies, to Labour meant that there was a lot to chat about. I saw Hazel Blears who seemed tired but otherwise unaffected by her deputy leadership result.

The campaign group has been formed to get the local Party active and campaigning all year round, not just at elections. Newham may have 2.5 out of 2.5 Labour MPs, 54 out of 60 Labour Councillors, a Labour mayor, a Labour GLA member and a Labour GLA Mayor. However, we face threats (of a sort) from disRespect (3 councillors) a fundamentalist so-called “Christian” Party (3 Councillors) and a growing Tory threat due to developments in the Newham Docklands and Stratford.

Lyn had invited some researchers to come and advise us on possible ways forward for the local Party. Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP Portsmouth North, a close colleague of Lyn (and UNISON member) who holds a marginal seat also shared her experiences. The meeting was as usual, robust with strong and passionate views expressed on the right ways to go forward. The meeting ended very positively with a number of agreed strategies and campaign events to take back to the GC for approval.

The views from the terrace as dusk fell was fantastic. Somewhat different than that of the dual carriageway immediately outside the Pie Shop.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Gun Crime in London and Manchester. A Trade Union Response.

At the UNISON conference (see post) last week there was a well attended joint fringe event with North West Region, chaired be London Regional Convener, Alan Jarman, with guest speakers David Michaels (Lewisham Police Consultative Committee) and Mick Hurley from MMAGS (Manchester, Multi Agency Gang Strategy—a group made up of criminal justice statutory agencies)

This was a thought provoking, intelligent and quite emotional fringe as delegates from both London and the North West, who live and work in communities overshadowed by gun crime, shared their experiences with the speakers.

Conroy Lawrence (left), London Lewisham Health, shared his family’s pain of the loss of his son, Justin Morgan, to gun crime in 2004. No-one has yet been brought to face justice for his murder. As a victim, Conroy pointed out that support for families devastated by gun crime, tails off after time. Only the media continue to contact him.

Peter Daley, Wandsworth LG, reminded everyone that tackling gun crime is a UNISON imperative—following an act of violence it will be UNISON members in the police and civilian staff who will receive the emergency call and send help. The paramedics, first on the scene, will be members, as will the nurses and hospital workers who will try and save the victims. The aftermath will often be dealt with by UNISON members in Social Services.

Raz Dowdall also pointed out the positive role of UNISON members in tackling this problem as youth workers in after-school clubs and as teaching assistants in local schools. The meeting agreed that UNISON members need to participate personally with their community but they should also campaign as members for more and better preventative facilities to include marginalised youths. UNISON should, with its campaigning skills and political connections with governments and councils, work to bring about change.

It was pointed out that this is not solely a "black issue". The black community did not invent "gun crime". Even nowadays, 40 years after the Krays, there are numerous white criminals carrying guns and using them to murder and harm in London and the North West.

The meeting closed in a very positive and constructive mood, not least due to the contribution by Khi Rafe (Lambeth LG) whose 12 year old son Ishmael “her baby” spoke so eloquently about growing up in the city and how gang membership was not for him despite the pressures that his fellow young people feel.

The Regional Convener in closing the meeting, challenged all present to go back challenged all present to go back to their localities to ensure that they campaigned for more cohesive communities including the issues raised by Ishmael about the lack of children’s and young people’s services.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Congratulations to Gordon and Harriet – Commiseration to Alan

Still , a winner is a winner. Well done Gordon, well done Harriet. Nearly there Alan. Only 0.8% short. Overall, a good result for the Labour Party and the affiliate trade unions (Particularly UNISON Labour Link – who I think can show that they can deliver, not enough this time obviously, however we need to build on how we communicate with our Labour Link members). I am convinced that Gordon and Harriet will be a winning team for Labour.

I haven’t seen a proper breakdown yet on how the MP’s, unions and Party members voted. There are already some bizarre interpretations of the results. I think that the polite term for this is “wishful thinking”. The Ultra Left (stress “Ultra”) has been completed marginalised and it has been demonstrated that is it has no meaningful support in the Party or its affiliate’s.

Last Day of UNISON Conference 2007 – Wreckers seen off.

Sorry this is a bit late. The last day of conference is always a little fraught. Your morning "routine” has to cope with the additional tasks of checking out of your hotel and finding somewhere to put your luggage for the day. Cumulative late nights (and hangovers) don’t help either.

Thanks to excellent trade union history blog Timemachine for NALGO (UNISON founder union) annual for 1939 (yes, it was called the "Beano"). I missed the traditional Friday “tongue in cheek” Standing order committee report. I hear that its chair, Clytus Williams, was on form and very funny.

There then was a good emergency debate on pay campaigns. Looks like it will be our first row with Gordon as Prime Minister (...and not our last). The scheduled order of business was finished off, then after lunch we had the start of the remaining order of business (the “snake”).

In 1 hour 45 minutes there was an attempt to debate 30 odd outstanding motions and amendments. First two motions which had been prioritised were health and safety motions. Sickness Absence Procedures and Attacks on Public sector workers: Violence against staff. Excellent news, real core trade union issues being prioritised and discussed. It was a pity that certain delegates prevented proper debate on such issues by raising a point of order and calling for a vote when only a couple of speakers had said anything. But no real surprise there.

Very pleased that Motion 101 “Pension Funds and Capital Stewardship – Toward the Citizen Economy” was the third prioritised motion (see Peter Gaskins, Cambridge UNISON pension rep
and new NEC member speaking in favour) and it was overwhelmingly passed. In fact I only saw one delegate vote against (by raising his yellow A4 voting card) and he was promptly hit on the head by a female colleague with her voting card for doing so. Quite right too. I’ll post something on 101 with a full account of the “Are we the New Capitalists” fringe. However, at the risk of sounding over enthusiastic, it appears that Capital Stewardship is coming of age in UNISON at last. Related issues came up time and time again during conference such as over the arms trade, Israeli, international solidarity, health & safety issues and the danger of “Private Equity”.

In the closing session the UNISON President for the year (Malcolm Cantello – elected by the NEC it is the most senior lay trade union post in UNISON) was thanked for his work not only in the past year but also for his entire trade union service. I always find this quite emotional and nostalgic. It is a shame that some delegates immediately leave as soon as formal business is finished and do not wait to listen.

Overall, a very good week. Real trade union business debated and moved forward. Pity that some nonsense crept through every now and then, but there you go.

Next year in Bournemouth….

Friday, June 22, 2007

UNISON conference – Trade Unionists are the “New Capitalists”?

Third day (Thursday) of UNISON National Delegate Conference. In the morning there was a row over the Standing Orders Committee report which led to a temporary suspension of business.

Then there was a briefing session on “Equal Pay” led by General Secretary Dave Prentis. Obviously equal pay is a key issue not least because trade unions, full time officers and even their branch activists have had legal action taken against them for allegedly failing to represent their members properly over equal pay agreements. I have heard that bailiffs have been knocking on the doors of branch secretaries at 6AM in order to serve summons on them personally. It was made clear that UNISON would back any branch officers under such an attack. We heard that “no win no fee” solicitors are evening encouraging people to join unions so they can sue them! I didn’t hear any mention of this wheeze the earlier debates on encouraging recruitment. Must remember to give that one a miss.

Baroness Howells gave a sobering and very dignified speech on the Bicentenary of the transatlantic slave trade.

Good debate on fighting the BNP. GLA delegate Alan Freeman made an excellent contribution, ending with something on the lines of “some people may not vote Labour because they can’t forgive Blair, but if they don’t vote Labour and let in the BNP they will never be able to forgive themselves”. This went down very well.

Ironically this debate was followed later that day by a UNISON rule change amendment during which a delegate referred to black people as “coloured” which quite rightly upset many people.

In another rule Change debate a proposal to “bash the NEC” and restrict their right to propose motions was knocked back.

After conference there was an official fringe event “Are we the “New Capitalists?” which I chaired with speakers David Pitt-Watson (see photo right - joint author of “The New Capitalists”, Chief Executive on Hermes, the in-house fund managers for BT and Post office, former assistant director of the Labour Party). Mo Baines, UNISON rep on the Greater Manchester LGPS scheme had to pull out, so National Officer Colin Meech stepped in. There were about 30 people present, mostly UNISON pension trustees or member reps on the Local Government Pension Scheme. I’ll try and write something up properly later about the fringe, but David’s precise and analytical arguments about workers capital and citizen investment were I think pretty convincing.

This is the Synopsis from Amazon about the book (£18.04 including postage.

“Thanks to the rise of mutual funds and retirement plans, the actual owners of the world's corporate giants are no longer a few wealthy families. Rather, they're the huge majority of working people who have their pensions and life savings invested in shares of today's largest companies. These grassroots owners have ideas about value that differ from those of tycoons or Wall Street traders. And corporate directors and executives are coming under increasing pressure to respond. The New Capitalists provides examples - from GE to Disney to British Petroleum - of enterprises whose shareholders have recently wielded their control in ways unimaginable just several years ago. Authors Stephen Davis, Jon Lukomnik and David Pitt-Watson describe how civil ownership will profoundly alter our world - including forcing the rise of a new species of corporation. It has already begun demolishing old rules and habits, laying the groundwork for a new "constitution of commerce." The authors spell out conventional thinking destined for extinction - and fresh strategies companies must implement to survive in the emerging "civil economy." They also outline how investors, advisors, activists, and policy makers can make their voices heard”.

A delegate remarked afterwards that usually fringe events are “for the converted” yet this event was a genuine attempt to discuss and debate new and radically different arguments.

Went for meal afterwards at the Regency Restaurant on the seafront near the Holiday Inn Hotel. A fantastic good value traditional fish restaurant. Recommend it, most of the restaurants around the conference centre are pretty poor (loads of visitors - no repeat business?).
Ended up at the traditional end of conference bash laid on by the Scottish region in the Metropole Hotel (also the joint Southern regions were having a function). The hotel was packed. See picture of me drinking with some members of the “1st Health Brigade” (led by Che Guevara look alike, Commander Mickey Crouch) and London Region Young members Convener, Sarah Lewis (sitting).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Day Two - UNISON Conference - Gun Crime fringe

Yesterday, saw more ordinary UNISON delegates speak to conference about real trade union issues such as organising and recruiting, the future of branch and service group structures and public services. An amendment which appeared to call for provocative strike action as a recruitment tactic was soundly thrown out. Ashok Sinha from “Stop Climate Chaos” spoke very well about this issue and related it to trade unions concerns.

In the lunch break I went to my first fringe event, organised by UNISON Health & Safety and chaired by Nick Green (Cheshire LG see photo right) on the launch of “Making us Better – Sickness absence agreements: A guide for UNISON safety reps". There was about 100 members present and the guide had a good reaction. See Energy Rep John Caulfield (middle) with booklet.

Afterwards there were debates on international issues. Gloria Hanson (Newham LG and Deputy London Region convener (left photo) spoke in favour of a motion on Cuba. While there was a very good debate on motion 53 which was about Palestine. This is obviously a very emotive subject. However, the standard of debate was very high and most speakers respected the views of their opponents. Often in such debates there is a tendency by the Ultra left to attack speakers for daring to argue against them. The motion was passed even though I felt that its opponents put up the better case (as you tend to do if your argument loses). Which was mostly about not just attacking Israel without also condemning Palestine extremists. Extremists on all sides are deliberately preventing any possible peaceful settlement.

After business there was a confused and noisy London Region delegation meeting on “Re-prioritisation” of motions for Friday's "snake". I have already said in previous posts that I will not try and explain about the “snake”. Due to daft remarks made on the Labour leadership elections by one delegate (not unknown to this blog) I decided to remind everyone if they haven’t yet voted for Alan Johnson 1 and Peter Hain 2 then they need to do so ASAP. A couple of members had brought their ballot papers with them. I was able to offer suitable advice.

After conference closed for the day London and North West Region held a Fringe on “Gun Crime – Time to Act”. Chaired by Alan Jarman (London region convener). I'll post a full report on this fringe another time since it was such a good event. Delegates shared their family’s pain brought about by gun crime murders and we discussed possible trade union solutions.

Finished off the day with the London Region disco in the Holiday Inn hotel. Money raised was to go to “Mothers against Gun Violence”. Very well attended and good time was had by all. A number of people were wearing dark glasses inside the conference hall this morning, I wonder why?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

UNISON Conference Update - Dave Strikes Back!

I arrived at Brighton for the UNISON National Delegate Conference on Monday evening. I gather that the usual suspects have acted appallingly during the UNISON Local Government conference (that took place immediately before the Start of National Conference) over pensions and pay.

They attacked UNISON, its elected lay members and national officers, despite the clear mandate given by the Special Local Government conference. Obviously there are delegates who genuinely think the Union made mistakes during the campaign (and no doubt mistakes were made – can't think of many) however, I think that certain people are still chasing strikes and feel cheated of their “big moment”. I really find it difficult to understand why the LGPS result is not seen as being anything but a huge victory. Just look at the Tories and the CBI take on it. Last week the Tories laid yet another amendment in the Lords, calling for a “review” (i.e. lets dismantle) of our pensions. Public sector final salary pensions are safe under Labour and we must work to make sure that this remains so.

There was a rather ill-tempered London Regional delegation meeting in the evening. About 100 delegates in the Holiday Inn hotel. The microphones did not not work since they were broadcasting into other meeting rooms. While some delegates brought up serious points and concerns, I felt that others just to want to disrupt and “grandstand” whenever possible. Don’t think that most delegates and visitors were too impressed.

Labour Link disco was as usual stunning and extremely well attended. The quality of the dancing was I’m sure very good, but perhaps it was an acquired taste?

Conference started on Tuesday, the hall was full but only 1600 odd delegates registered this year? Huge row at the start when the Chair of BME members committee complained about “racist stereotypical literature” being handed out by certain branches, slandering the UNISON (elected) Standing Orders Committee (see previous post) and its Chair in particular. I have seen the flyer, but can’t say anything since there is an internal discipline investigation.

Dave Prentis, our elected General Secretary, gave his keynote speech. He laid into certain delegates for undermining and attacking the Union on the “instructions of their central committee”. I have never seen Dave so angry. This was I think a direct reference to the SWP central committee who it would appear, he believes, instruct their UNISON delegate members on what to say and how to vote. Even though it is against the interests of the Union. (I couldn't possibly comment). He also made it clear that Labour Party would not win a 4th term in power unless they change key policies such as PFI and Council housing.

On the whole there was some good debates and arguments. However, I wish that speakers would actually stick to the motion being debated. Too many speakers just used their 3 minutes of glory on the speaking platform to bang on about their own (or central committees?) political hobby horses (lets attack Labour) and not talk about the important issues actually being debated.

Hopefully I'll be able to post something else tomorrow. (Picture below is of UNISON members supporting in UNIZONE).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Alan Johnson writes to UNISON Labour Link Members

8th June 2007
To: UNISON Labour Link Members

Dear Colleague,
Election of the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

As we reach the end of what has been a mammoth campaign I am writing to say how grateful I am for the support of UNISON for my deputy leadership bid. I believe the faith the union has placed in me is for good reason. Trade unionism is in my blood. I joined the union on my first day at work and held virtually every elected position up to General Secretary.

I owe much of who and what I am today to the Trade Union movement. It educated me and gave me a political direction. Since those earliest days I have wanted to advance the cause of working people and their families.

In government I have stuck to my trade union principles. I have delivered improvements for working people in respect of maternity leave, paternity leave and anti-discrimination legislation. The deal I brokered to honour the current normal pension age of three million teachers, civil servants, nurses and other NHS staff was a balanced, negotiated agreement which I defended against fierce attacks from the malicious and the ill informed.

Around this time you will be receiving your ballot paper. I believe it takes a certain type of individual with certain qualities to be deputy leader. Someone who sticks by their principles, someone who doesn’t change their position or disown their past because they think it will win a few votes. Someone who can work with the new leader but can stand up to him if needs be; someone who has real experience in government and a genuine understanding of the concerns and motivations of ordinary working people, because their background is the same as the people we in Labour are here to defend.

The person the party chooses to become deputy will have a real bearing on our chances at the next election. That’s why more MPs and MEPs nominated me than any other candidate.

That’s why I hope you will vote for me.

Yours sincerely
Alan Johnson MP

On Friday I got my trade union ballot paper with it was an endorsement of Alan by UNISON Labour Link.

"UNISON is recommending that members back Education Secretary Alan Johnson MP for deputy leader of the Labour Party. The UNISON Labour Link committee is also recommending members give their second preference vote to Peter Hain MP, the Northern Ireland Secretary.
Alan Johnson has strong trade union links, having been general secretary of the CWU. His ‘good ministerial record’ in areas such as public sector pensions, family friendly policies, equalities and now on education support staff also won him the committee’s vote with many UNISON members having benefited from his decisions.

Alan Johnson is someone we can do business with and who can take Labour's message to the country along with Gordon' said Dave Prentis.The Education Secretary got the support of UNISON's political committee which also brought unanimous vote to throw the union's weight behind Gordon Brown as party leader.Peter Hain won backing to get second preference votes for his long campaigning record against apartheid and racism and his close work with the unions.UNISON backs Alan Johnson for Deputy Alan Johnson has strong trade union links, having been general secretary of the CWU. His 'good ministerial record' in areas such as public sector pensions, family friendly policies, equalities and now on education support staff also won him the committee's vote with many UNISON members having benefited from his decisions.'We need an election-winning team to face down the Conservatives,'said Labour Link chair Steve Warwick. 'Gordon and Alan can win an election for Labour.'UNISON is recommending that members back Education Secretary Alan Johnson MP for deputy leader of the Labour Party. The UNISON Labour Link committee is also recommending members give their second preference vote to Peter Hain MP, the Northern Ireland Secretary"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Guide to UNISON Conference 2007

This year’s annual NationalDelegate Conference (NDC) is in Brighton. It starts 10am on Tuesday, 19 June, and lasts until Friday afternoon. It is the union's ruling body and decides upon campaign priorities and policies.

To anyone who hasn’t been before I would recommend clicking onto the UNISON website and watch the short video of last year’s NDC at Bournemouth. The NDC is huge, you don’t realise how big an organisation UNISON is until you go to conference and see how widespread geographically the membership is. You’ll hear accents from all over the British Isles (and much further afield).

Last year over 1875 delegates registered (60% females which are pretty close to the 2/3 female to male make up of the membership). However, only 786 out of 1200 odd branches in UNISON registered.

Just to confuse matters, UNISON is also holding a number of other conferences. UNISON is divided into “service groups”. Each service group holds its own annual conference. As well as service group annual conferences it also holds conferences for Retired members, Black members, disabled members, LGBT members and women members. Some other trade unions will tease UNISON activists about the number of conferences we have. They have a point, but in such a diverse national trade union of 1.3 million members there has to be some way of involving members in the running of their union. I am more concerned with the problems that many branches have getting members to become delegates in the first place.

The conference is really an Annual General Meeting. An annual report is tabled, the union accounts are published, rule changes debated, senior officers of UNISON such as the General Secretary, Dave Prentis, makes an address (Tuesday afternoon), guest keynote speakers such as Ashok Sinha from “Stop Climate Chaos”, Baroness Amos on the Abolition of the Slave Trade and Alison Shepherd, President TUC. There will also be a briefing on Equal pay. The unions elected National Executive Council members sit en masse behind the platform. There are massive TV screens and union logos everywhere. There is a mysterious and mystifying organisation called, “Standing Orders Committee” which appears to have a lot of influence. Outside the conference there is an exhibition fair. What many activists are most interested in are the annual “bun fights” over union policies. Delegates will “debate” the pros and cons of particular motions and amendments. These debates can be confusing, silly, exciting, boring, fascinating, funny, sad and utterly bewildering to first time delegates. I will not even try to explain the “Snake” on Friday.

There are also “fringe” events (official and unofficial) held during lunchtimes and early evening. I’ll be going to the Health & Safety fringe on Wednesday lunchtime, the London Region fringe on “Gun Crime” Wednesday 6pm and the “Are we the New Capitalists?” fringe on Thursday 5.15pm Alpha East 1 (which I will be chairing – see motion 101 “Pensions Funds and Capital Stewardship – Towards the Citizen Economy” I’ll post something later on this motion.). Finally, there are the late evening functions, the best being the “Labour Link” and the London Region socials.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Remembering HMS Ardent – 25 years after victory in the Falklands

Off message: Yesterday I was listening to the “Today” programme when they interviewed Admiral Sir Alan West, former First Sea lord, over the 25th anniversary of the ending of the Falklands War. Sir Alan had been the commander of HMS Ardent which had been sunk by Argentine jets on 21 May 1982 killing 22 men out of 199 crew. The ship was supporting Royal Marines landing in San Carlos Water. He spoke movingly about how he felt at the time about surviving the attack when so many of his crew had died.

HMS Ardent was hit by 17 bombs in less than 22 minutes. Sir Alan was the last person to leave the ship before it sank.

In 1982 I was a student at Leeds University and had recently joined the Territorial Army. I volunteered for a residential course over Easter with 29 Commando Regiment (Royal Artillery). It was without doubt the hardest and most demanding thing I have ever done. We all arrived by train in the evening (about 25 students, male and female) and told to go for a meal at the mess and to start the course the next morning. Half way through the meal we were told to finish up and change into overalls and boots for a run. There then followed an hour’s run up and down Plymouth followed by us all jumping into the sea, fully clothed, from a local pier, then running back. The rest of the course was pretty much of the same. Lots of running with kit and rifles, timed assault courses, swimming with webbing through outdoor water tunnels, death slides, abseiling and finishing with an overnight exercise on Dartmoor.

For an afternoon off we had a visit to Plymouth Naval base to visit a local warship. We spend a pleasant afternoon on board. The crew were very friendly, enthusiastic and obviously proud of their ship. They showed us all around the ship, practiced emergency drills and what to do if equipment failed. Our chief guide was a very relaxed Aussie (?) who loved the navy. I remember thinking how small the ship was and how close its community must get on active service. The visit was a welcome respite with no one shouting at us or making us do horrible things. The ship was of course HMS Ardent. The next month it was sunk and over 10% of its crew was dead. I don’t know how many were injured. The average age on board was 23 years old. I was then 19.

The course ended with an exercise in Dartmoor in freezing cold conditions. We bivouac overnight before a dawn mock infantry attack. During the evening one of our senior 29 Commando instructors was holding forth about the terrible state of the youth of this country and how the whole country is "going to the dogs". I am sure that in every army (or navy or air force) and in every age there has ever been, senior non-commissioned officers have been saying this same sort of thing. He finished his diatribe by saying “what this country needs is a bloody good war!” A few weeks later he was shipped out with his battery to the Falklands'.

UNISON safety inspection Depot Crush Hazard

Sent off to management a TU safety inspection report this afternoon about the new Council depot in Sutton Street, E1. The depot was originally a dairy (early 20 century?) and was acquired by the former Greater London Council.

It has had a variety of different uses over the years. It was recently taken over by “squatters” for a significant period of time. The squatters have been evicted and the buildings have undergone a refurbishment. It is due to reopen next month (maybe).
The depot will be used by Council Parking control/enforcement officers, Transport (13 vehicles), Pest control, Animal wardens, trading standards, Housing estate emergency team, Environmental Health (noise lab). Estimated approximately 90 staff, 40 vehicles (including10-12 motorbikes). Some of the Transport vehicles are 6.5m long, 31 seat coaches.

UNISON, GMB and T&G safety reps took part in inspection. Big problem that we found was with the access in and out of the depot (see left photo). The only entry and exist point is under the arch. To be blunt, there is a foreseeable and significant risk of workers being crushed or hit by vehicles as they enter or leave the depot. Workers are expected to share the only access/exist point with motor vehicles.

The space under this archway is relatively tight and even if railing were put up for pedestrians this would not prevent a crush hazard. At one point the width is only 2.93m. It is a fundamental safety rule that traffic and pedestrians are kept separate whenever possible. We have identified a former doorway into the building to the north of the archway (photo below) which could be opened and a passageway made for workers walking in and out of the depot.

Other problems we brought up was the failure to consult with safety reps until after building contracts for the depot had been signed, site security, the muster room for Parking attendants being also a rest room for all staff, query about ventilation in radio battery charging room, no drying facilities for parking attendants wet clothes, a prayer room is suppose to double as a management meeting room, no first aid room, many parts of building has no ventilation, road congestion outside depot.

We have a further meeting with management on 28 June. The crush hazard is really obvious. What makes me really fed up with process is that if management had bothered to actually consult with trade unions (as they are legally obliged) then we could have brought up this hazard at the design stage. Not after most works have been completed. Makes you weep.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

“Nasty Party” Tories fight for Poverty Wages

This story reminds us all why we must defeat the Tories in GLA elections 2008 and at the next General election. Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, is trying to get all workers in London paid a “living” wage. This is currently calculated at £7.20 gross per hour (net wage of £217.83 per week on 37.5 hours contract). This figure does not include any pensions, sickness pay or other benefits. This is not an excessive wage for anywhere in the UK, but could you imagine how difficult it is to bring up a family in inner London on just £217 per week?

Labour members of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) which runs London fire stations are trying to make sure that all their contract cleaners are paid a living wage. However the Conservative members on the LFEPA decided to oppose this measure. “Paying London Fire Station cleaners the London Living wage of £7.20 ... is just ridiculous” says Tory Brian “Edward Heath was Gay” Coleman who is also Deputy Chairman of the London Assembly.

Ken Livingston replied “This is the nasty wing of politics. It is scandalous that there was an attempt to block the payment of the London living wage to these cleaners”.How on earth can well paid Tories possibly object to paying someone £7.20 an hour? Last year Maurice Heaster (picture far right), who also voted to stop cleaners wages received £13,501.98 (£259 per week) alone in allowances from the LFEPA.

A final decision will be made by a full committee meeting of the LFEPA. London Citizens will be organising a lobby outside 21st June at 1:30pm, outside Hampton House, 20 Albert Embankment, SE1 7SD. Nearest tube: Vauxhall or Bus: 77 or 344. Map:

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

East London Labour Movement rally - Alan Johnson 4 Deputy Leader

Tonight in Brick Lane, East London there was a coming together of all sections of the London Labour movement for Alan Johnson to be elected Deputy Leader. Alan is pictured with some of the London UNISON Labour Link supporters (who helped sponsor the event). However, local MP Jim Fitzpatrick, other MP’s, London Councillors, Party members, supportive community leaders and affiliated trade unionists came to support Alan as the best candidate for Deputy Leader.

The superb Sonar Gaon Restaurant was taken over by over a 100 supporters for a series of speeches and an opportunity to meet Alan over a top curry. 3 different Asian TV stations were present. We even had a little demo by disRespect to welcome Alan.

There was a panel of speakers, Jim Fitzpatrick MP started with a ringing endorsement of Alan as someone who would help Gordon Brown rebuild the Party and secure victory in the next elections. Alan Jarman (another “AJ”) Greater London UNISON Regional Convenor , spoke about UNISON "Labour Link" support for Alan due to his trade union background and understanding of many issues such as public sector Pensions. However, despite that, UNISON did have differences with the government but at least Alan would listen and would act to support us if he thought we were right. It was good to hear him speak about LGBT issues.

Newham Cllr Winston Vaughan, is a long standing member of the CWU who had known Alan Johnson for many years, he described him as someone he could trust; Rushanara Ali, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow, spoke I felt eloquently about the importance of renewing the Labour Party locally and taking on Respect at the next general election. Shahid Malik MP gave a cracking speech, I lost count but it must have contained at least a 100 reasons to vote Labour, he drove home all that Labour had done for the Muslim community (and its mistakes) and exposed the racist underbelly of the Tories. Shahid also mentioned the “story” that Alan represents. Someone who was born in poverty and deprivation yet has risen to become a leading cabinet minister. He reminded us that Alan as a postman use to deliver letters to Dorneywood, which was the official residence of the deputy prime minister. Now he may get the keys. You can understand the appeal that this “story” has for the BME community and this is the reason for his widespread support.

Jim Knight MP gave a laid back but effective endorsement of Alan as someone whose moral character and personal strength would makes him an excellent deputy leader. The session was chaired by Mizanur Rahman Chaudhury. Good to see relatively young members in such a role and doing it well. This is good for the future of the Party.

Alan Johnson gave an exceptional speech. He appeared at ease and to enjoy himself. I felt he was pleased with the breadth of support, especially by the trade unions and felt at home. He compared himself to a stick of Blackpool Rock, he was a trade unionist to the core. He agreed with UNISON Regional Convenor Alan Jarman, that the Unions will not always see eye to eye with a Labour government however, the important issue is that if compare our differences within the Labour Movement (Labour Party, affiliated Socialist Societies and Trade unions) with that of the Tories then our differences are minor. Hilary Clinton used a similar argument on the democratic TV hustings in the States a little while ago. He attacked those of the extreme “left” who practice postures politics (I wonder who he could mean?).

Alan also pointed out that the single major difference between this Labour government and previous ones is that they have stayed in power for more than one full term. It takes time to change society and we have to keep winning. He finished by personally thanking and mentioning all of the panel. Alan was received enthusiastically and then went on to “work” the floor (which he is very good at) and spoke to every table.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Compass Conference – Workshops, Global Question time and Close

This report follows my first post “Navigating the Compass Conference”. After the morning keynote speeches there was a choice of 16 workshops. I decided on the “An Irresistible Force? Managing globalisation” by Unions 21. Just beforehand I sneaked into the debate on Trident and took this quick picture (left) of Labour blogger, Luke Akehurst, who was speaking in favour of Trident(on left with Jon Trickett standing).

Will Hutton, of the Work Foundation was guest speaker at the unions 21 workshop. A lot of international trade unions were represented. This is now the third trade union meeting on globalisation that I have attended in recent weeks. Things are starting to happen. Will made an interesting remark about the Chinese being concerned about goods “being made in china but not made by Chinese” referring to the level of foreign ownership of companies, China retains little “added value”. However, it’s the Asian saving culture and the huge amount of petrol dollars which have fuelled the Private Equity boom in the West. I asked my usual question on the role of workers capital. Which the panel broadly agreed should be important.

After lunch I went to the New Local Government Network workshop on Globalisation and local government. The panel of speakers (see top right photo: left to right) Stella Creasy (former mayor of Waltham Forest), Chair (rudely I have forgotten his name), Lyn Brown MP (West Ham), Cllr Steve Reed (Lambeth Council Leader) and Jane Roberts (former Leader of Camden). It seems that the new bill currently making its way on local government is finally going to decentralise decision making back to local authorities. This went down very well with the audience. Lyn, in her probably unique experience as a local government researcher, senior councillor and now PPS to the Minister for Local government felt that these were an opportunity for a Renaissance in Councils. In the meeting was another blogger, my favourite GMB Councillor from the London Borough of Waltham Forest, Miranda Grell (see pic below). In my response to my question to the panel on the role of unions in this Lyn suggested that we ought to have representation on local strategic partnership boards. While Stella quoted Ed Miliban (I think it was Ed not David) that Council workers should stop being “experts” and start being “navigators” for their communities. A very suitable thing to say at a compass conference!

Global question time in the great hall followed. Poor old Garth Thomas MP, under secretary of state for international development had a hard time from his fellow panellists (Martin Bright “New Statesman”, Shami Chakrabarti “Liberty”, Martin Sedden “Al jazeera” and Sukvinder Stubbs “Barrow Cadbury Group”). However, thought that he stood his ground well and gave as good as he got especially over the debate about a “British Day”. Heather Wakefield, from UNISON asked a question about how the panel would tackle the continued discrimination in public services regarding equal pay for women. This had Shami unusually, she admitted for a Liberty spokesperson, calling for greater regulations and legal enforcement.

Antonio Miranda a Brazilian campaigner spoke about the successful battle in Brazil against water privatisation.

Jon Tickett MP was the final speaker. Jon Cruddas was in Cardiff with the rest of the deputy leadership candidates. He was billed to give a video message, but it never happened for some reason. I thought that Jon T speech was quite negative and even a little grumpy. Nothing to write home about.

It is interesting that I don’t think any of main Compass speakers mentioned Tony Blair by name even once. Despite this I am not wholly convinced that Compass is really that different from “New Labour”. Compass is certainly associated with distinctive polices such as opposition to Iraq and Trident at which they are at odds with the Labour Government. However, on the basis of what I heard at this conference about Compass supporters “positions” on privatisation, economic policy, globalisation etc then I think there is in reality no fundamental schism. I think that Compass is a “traditional” Labour movement which has ditched Marxism and state socialism for civil liberties and equal opportunities.