Sunday, September 30, 2007

One Society, Many Cultures: Multiculturalism Contribution to a Dynamic Society

On Tuesday, straight after the close of conference business, I went to this meeting which was sponsored jointly by UNISON and the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR). This was probably the best event that I attended all week.

The breadth of speakers was very impressive. Doreen Lawrence (Stephen Lawrence Trust), Sadiq Khan MP, Claude Moraes MEP, Edie Friedman (Jewish Council for Equality), Prof Tariq Modood (Bristol University) Dr Mohammed Abdul Bari (Muslim Council of Britain), Mohammed Azam (NAAR), Chaired by UNISON national black members' committee chair, Bev Miller. The point was well made that Britain has always been a diverse nation. In the first place a coalition of different nationalities (English, Scots, Welsh and Irish who have celebrated their cultural traditions) and religions. Which also has throughout its history received constant flows of new citizens.

Personally, I think it is an imperative for a democratic society to embrace diversity and multiculturalism. This was also dealt with very well at the Euston Manifesto conference in June.

The one problem with the fringe meeting is that there was so many speakers that there was not enough time to ask questions or for them to respond. I did manage to bring up that in Newham, we have an Ultra Left (Respect) and a Far right fundamentalist Christian party (Christian Peoples Alliance) represented on the Council, elements of which both try to racially and religiously divide our communities and promote hatred. However, the meeting had to close before the panel could back with some advice on how to deal with them.

UNISON Delegation (& Dancers)

Much to the amusement of the media (who were on the floor next to our seats taking pictures). Whenever there was some lively music in the hall, the UNISON delegation would start to dance, clap and sway together in their seats. We were right at the front of the hall and in the middle row.

It was an excellent position. It was also relatively easy to grab ministers as they walked by (see right).

UNISON Delegation Questioners

One of the way that delegates could contribute to the conference was by asking questions from the floor to the various Q&A panels. The delegation as a whole didn't think we got a fair share of questions. Especially on the key UNISON issues such as health and education.

UNISON Delegation Speakers

Dave Prentis moved the successful UNISON composite on local Government and Equal Pay. He also made an impassioned plea for Labour to "finish the job started by Barbara Castle" and ensure equal pay for women, so many of whom are still earning less than men for work of equal value.

While Steve Warwick spoke on debate about housing. He pointed out that only 1% of towns in this country had homes affordable to nurses.

Who knows best? Patient and public involvement in healthcare

Tuesday lunchtime, standing room only. Chaired by Hugh Simpson (GMC), Mike Jackson (UNISON), Neil Churchill (Asthma UK), Angela Greatly (SCMH) and embarrassingly, I have forgotten the name of the able MP (speaking) who was standing in for health minister Ann Keen. I've tried to google the event but nothing. Anyone remind me?

Mike Jackson made an interesting point that the first partnership in health was recorded in the 17th Century. When the staff and patients of Bedlam got together to approach the board of governors to demand successfully better conditions for patients!

I was able to put a question that if they want meaningful engagement or "partnership" with staff then management must enable their reps to have adequate time off and training to contribute to any joint working.

UNISON/Unite/GMB/CWU rally

“Social Justice at Work – the heart of the British Identity”? Monday evening. The Big 4 trade unions.

Picture of Unite-Amicus General Secretary Derek Simpson in full flow, then Tony Woodley GS Unite–TGWU, Chair Gloria Mills (UNISON), Paul Kenny GS of GMB and of course Dave Prentis GS of UNISON. Billy Hayes of the CWU couldn't make it. They all seemed very relaxed and confident. Dave gave a good speech and I think was the only person I heard at the conference to mention the “S” word.

Short time for Q&A so unable to ask my question on the unions working together to promote Capital Stewardship. Saw Derek (much, much later) at the Billy Bragg concert and said to him I suppose this is not a good time to talk about trade unions and pension governance? Unfortunately he agreed it wasn’t. Oh well, if you don’t ask….

UNISON/Compass/Tribune Rally

This is the first of a selection of posts and pictures with brief comments about fringes, rallies and seminars that I attended last week during conference that I didn’t have the time to post.

Sunday evening - Can the public services deliver the new "progressive consensus”?

Chaired by Compass Neal Lawson with Ed Milliband MP, Douglas Alexander MP, Angela Eagle MP and Heather Wakefield (from UNISON standing in for Dave Prentis).

Ed Milliband seemed rather “put out” for some reason by my suggestion in the Q&A that there will be no consensus if the Government continues to privatise and there is a political risk to the Party since some of our core vote may think they might as well vote Tory? Can’t think why?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Harriet Rallies Labour Red Army

Harriet gave a rousing speech at the end of conference today. Psyching the activists up for a snap general election? I simply don’t know. As I left Bournemouth this afternoon, many people thought it “likely”, especially if the Tories mess up their conference next week with internal rows and division.

Tactically it does make sense, as everyone in the Labour movement at this moment is united and confident (for admittedly different reasons), the economy is going OK and Gordon is clearly ahead in the polls.

Highlight of today was Housing minister, Yvette Cooper’s, speech when she was given a standing ovation at the end of it. As the Chair, Keith Vaz said afterwards - it was the first time in 25 years that he has seen a Labour conference give a Housing minister such acclaim! That remark made Dennis Skinner MP laugh – first time I had seen him do that during the entire conference.

Steve Warwick from UNISON Labour Link gave a well received speech on affordable housing as well.

I’ll do some more posts later on the conference which was great fun and politically stimulating. As was said again today – Politics matters.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Conference fatigue

Fourth day of conference and starting to feel knackered. Apologies for the lack of blogs. While writing this at the Community internet cafe a fellow comrade waiting for a free pc asked me what blog I was writing?
It turned out of course to be Labour blogger "GrimmerupNorth" (Susan).
Had a nice chat and I am "comradely" turning over the computer to Susan (a journo) for her to submit an article to meet a deadline.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

UNISON Housing Fringe

The event was called "Can Labour rise to the Housing Challenge?". Speaking (standing to the right) is the housing minister Yvette Cooper. Who I understand is having her own "housing" problems, as is her husband Ed. According to Channel 4 "Dispatches" anyway.

I asked her to respond to the points that UNISON head of local government, Heather Wakefield had made earlier about excessive pay in housing associations and 2-tier workforces after TUPE transfers. She said she would "work with UNISON" on 2-tier workforces and think about sending "a message" to the sector about their pay levels (for Chief Officers). Not sure what that will mean?

The answer BTW to the question is of course YES!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gordon Speaks to Party and Nation

Gordon's speech to conference finished about 30 minutes ago. The "buzz" inside and out of the hall is that he gave a "great" and even an inspiring speech.

I'll let others give their views on the policy announcements. My impression is that of an old fashioned (dare I say "Old Labour" in the true sense of the word) politician.

Gordon Brown is someone who has been fashioned by his own life experiences. His preacher father installed a strong sense of 'duty' and British patriotism as well as pride in traditional values. However, the great British institutions, Education and the NHS (the new religion in our secular society?) have also played their role in shaping him.

Some bits and bobs - the speech lasted for over an hour, there was a standing ovation before he had even started, something he did seem genuinely embarrassed about, but delegates refused to sit down. This was genuine warmth not just stage management. He pointed out the importance of "rising aspirations" of the public which he cleverly linked with the poverty of aspirations in deprived communities. There was a stress in his speech on British manufacturing which would have pleased the Private sector unions. Have to sign off now because I'm hogging the Community Internet so I'll finish off later.

Gordon Speaks to Labour Trade Unionists

My first fringe event is to go to a packed to overflowing “Trade Unions for Labour" rally.
Gordon was the guest speaker and was very, very good and got a rousing reception.
It is the first time close up I have ever seen him speaking with fire and passion. Especially when he talked about the role of trade unions in fighting injustice and inequality.
Bit more than a mood change?

First day at Conference - Rule Change

Further to last post – there was a little bit of a “bun fight” at conference yesterday over the rule change contained in the “extending and renewing party democracy” proposal. This is all rather confusing and there has been some misleading information put out in the media claiming this means the “End of Labour Party Conference”.
The truth about the matter is a little more complex and subtle. Most people I have spoken to are concerned about the rule change. However, they accept that something had to change and things could not go on as before. For a number of years Conference has been passing motions which the Labour Government has made it very clear that they have no intention of implementing. This is actually nothing unique to “New Labour”. In fact Herbert Morrison (I think) defined Socialism as “What Labour Governments Do”. I have also always been a bit sceptical on the “Socialism via passing resolutions school of thought”.

The idea is that proposals can still be put forward to conference to be debated and voted upon. If passed, then this proposal will be sent to the National Policy Forum for further debate and discussion. The NPF will then report back to conference next year with proposals which will then be voted upon. The proposers and movers will be involved in this process.

I think that the trade unions see this as possibly a positive change. Instead of “empty victories” they will have a chance to continue to negotiate and influence policy. CLP’s and smaller affiliates often will not have such resources. However, extra resources in the whole NPF process have been promised. Wait and see. There is a “get out” clause. After two years it will all be reviewed and a vote will be taken on whether to go back to motions.

On a positive point, I think the idea of all CLP’s holding a policy day is excellent.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Labour Party Conference - arrived Saturday

Just a very quick post from the (free) trade union Community Internet stall, about to go to start of conference.

First impression, the massive security presence is a bit of a shock. The Police have cordoned off a big chunk of the area around the conference centre. Even pubs have been shut down. No-one is allowed into this area without passes. I suppose this is necessary in this day and age but it is quite a contrast to UNISON conferences. Lots of armed Police and helicopters, even apparently a navy gun boat off shore!

I couldn't find the T&G Unite demo, but there was a colourful "lobby" by GMB over Remploy outside.

Up 7AM today for run along beach then delegation meeting (I am a UNISON Labour Link delegate for London) at 9.30am. I'll try and write something up on this, especially about the rule change. Future delegation meeting start at 7:30am!

Picture of sunset while taking a walk along the beach last night.

Friday, September 21, 2007

“Will no one rid me of this turbulent...Shop Steward!”

Last night I spoke at a Newham UNISON rally in support of their suspended Branch Chair, Michael Gavan (2nd from left). Unusually, the rally was in the Stratford Picture House (cinema - right photo) and had the film director Ken Loach (middle) as the guest speaker. Ken had allowed his latest film “It’s a Free World” to be shown and have its British premier that night to help Newham branch.

Now, I have already made it clear that I do not support Michael’s political beliefs (he is the Chair of Newham Respect), however, he is the senior democratically elected UNISON branch officer in Newham (local government) with an excellent reputation for defending members in discipline or sickness hearings.

I think that everyone accepts that trade union reps are accountable for their actions; but, Michael has been accused by management in Newham Council of two counts of “gross misconduct”. These should be very serious and substantiated allegations. But it is clear to me that the actual charges made against Michael are just simply nonsensical and in no way justify suspension or charges of gross misconduct. I first heard in detail about the allegations from non UNISON sources.

This is now an "official" dispute and a strike ballot has been authorised and I have no doubt that there is the potential for prolonged and damaging strike action to take place.

In his speech Ken, was as usual, rather uncomplimentary about the Labour Party. I think he is just plain wrong about these particular views. For example I don’t actually think that Gordon Brown (for all his mistakes) is engaged in a conspiracy to stop migrant workers being paid the minimum wage in order to keep inflation down. In fact I am absolute confident that the opposite is true. Despite this we could all agree that Michael is being treated very unfairly.

Also present was UNISON NEC member Irene Stacey (far left - speaker and secretary of Newham branch), UNISON NEC member Kim Silver (Newham) and Councillor (Tower Hamlets) Bill Turner (member Newham UNISON) amongst others. It was nice to speak from the same platform as my good comrade, Jon Rogers (UNISON NEC).

During his speech Ken turned round and looked at me and said that he hoped the unions would not “cut and run” in their support for Michael. Something he thought that British trade unions were prone to do. He had a big beaming smile while he said this, I didn’t take offence. Mind you afterwards I had to apologise to him for not staying and seeing the film since I had to go to another meeting. He laughed, I laughed…. I did mention on the way out that it was a Newham Labour Party selection meeting. Nobody seemed to mind.

By coincidence while I was finishing off this report I have just watched the BBC2 “Newsnight” feature on the current problems in “Respect”.

Off tomorrow to Labour Party conference.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Labour Party conference 2007

Every evening this week I have come home there is at least 2 or 3 letters or large documents in the post from the Party or UNISON Labour Link about the conference next week. This is my first Labour Party conference. Things are also a bit hectic at work, so I have a massive pile of reading to work my way thorough somehow before Saturday evening. Not very green but I suppose it is necessary.

I am one of the two (elected) UNISON Labour Link (APF) delegates from Greater London region. The other delegate from London is UNISON NEC member, Louise Couling, who is an old hand at these things. London NEC member Irene Stacey will also be there.

The accommodation is booked (and confirmed thankfully), but there is a mass of invites, passes, security warnings and tickets to all sort of different meetings and fringes.

I will try and blog on the conference every day.

Should be interesting.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The cruel and unusual disintegration of diss-Respect

To bring people up to date on the story so far: after a number of defections and rumours about internal arguments and rifts. The selection of a local “business wing” candidate for Respect in the recent by-election at Shadwell led to open war between the main Respect “Coalition” allies: Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Nearly all the paid Respect Party officials are SWP members. This went from bad to worse when the SWP officials tried to force the Muslim Bangladeshi Respect Councillors to go on a Respect float at the 2007 Gay Pride parade!

Surprise, surprise the councillors told Galloway that they have had enough of the SWP telling them what to do and if he did not sort the SWP out they would split from Respect and form a traditional community based party (maybe a local branch of the BNP, I kid you not, the “very centre right” – Bangladeshi National Party). Galloway was welcome to join them, but of course he realised that he needed not only community support to win at the next general election, but also experienced political organisers to run his campaign.

If he was to defect to a purely Islamic community party then he would zero support from white middle class extremist lefties, who “sort of” know how to canvass and run elections. So George sends his private and confidential letter (via the web) to the Respect National Council, SWP send their hurt reply, and they hold a SWP members meeting last week to have a bit of a whine and whinge about the horrid George.

My best guesstimate is that the SWP will leave and other extremist left groups (who hate the SWP “Life of Brian” style) will naively take their place and become Galloway’s latest cannon fodder.

I think for Respect the “End is Neigh”. However, Galloway will continue to use and abuse whoever to further his ego.

Below is another reply to Galloway’s original letter from (SWP)Respect General Secretary (for now - Galloway has told him to resign) John Rees, attacking George, which I think has been sent to London Respect members, but at this moment I cannot verify it – however, it looks legit (but nonsense).

"The Future for Respect

Respect has organised the most successful electoral intervention by the left in British politics in two generations. It has galvanised hundreds of thousands of voters, tens of thousands of activists and drawn thousands towards radical ideas.

But as any organisation grows it confronts new problems and must refresh its structures and modify its strategy in order to deal with them.

We regret that George Galloway’s criticisms of Respect have, inevitably, now been reproduced on many websites, including The Labour Party website, circulated on the Internet and become the subject of articles in The New Statesman, the East London Advertiser, The Independent and the sectarian left press. But if the debate they have initiated leads to a renewal of Respect democratic structures and a renewed strategic orientation they will have served a useful purpose.

Below we set out our views on the future of Respect.

1. Has “nothing changed” since we founded Respect?

George’s desire to attribute all the problems that Respect faces to organisational questions centred on the national office has led to the claim that there have been no changes in the objective situation that present us with any problems.

This is obviously not the case. The defeat of Tony Blair, the arrival of Gordon Brown, the defeat of the British in Iraq and a renewed level of industrial struggle are all quite significant changes in the objective situation that pose fresh difficulties and challenges for Respect.

Equally the development of Respect itself presents us with problems that simply did not arise at the beginning. In some areas we have been so electorally successful that we attract tens, sometimes hundreds, of candidates and supporters who simply never existed in the early days. At the beginning we never thought of worrying about Labour and other defectors joining Respect because they could be successful rather than because they believed in its politics.

Now this problem is present in every area where we are successful and the pressure on us from this direction is intense. In Tower Hamlets it has led to two defections from our original council group of 12 councillors. It makes every selection process a battle ground and it demands the requirement of strong political belief and commitment to Respect’s politics is greater than ever. It also demands greater accountability on all sides.

Look at the record in Tower Hamlets: the Vice Chair of Respect left and stood for the Liberals at the last council election; former Labour councillor Mortuza joined Respect amid much publicity then left again and stood against us for Labour; and now one Respect councillor has joined New Labour and another caused a by-election in Shadwell which Respect only retained by 97 votes after a 6.7 percent swing to Labour. If this goes on the pressure of Labourism and opportunism will break the council group in our greatest stronghold.

In other areas the problems are different. Since the very beginning of Respect we have consciously and deliberately adopted a policy of concentration of resources in order to make electoral breakthroughs in our best areas. We wished to avoid the Socialist Alliance experience of standing more widely but rarely winning.

It has been a successful policy. But every success breeds problems and in some areas Respect is less strong than it could or should be. John Rees raised this issue at the last NC and recommended that we now relax the policy of concentration and overcome the unevenness of Respect by building on a more widespread basis.

We will return to how we can best overcome these problems in the conclusion of this document.

2. Does this mean that Respect is ‘moribund’?

The council election results this year hardly support this view. We won in Birmingham, Preston and Bolsover. But the success was general where we stood. In Sheffield we doubled our base, by winning substantial votes in two wards rather that the one ward of the year before. In Bristol where Jerry Hicks original ward was not up for election we successfully created another base in a central Bristol ward. In Cambridge Tom Woodcock got a terrific vote. In Leeds and Halifax we ran our strongest ever elections campaigns. In Leicester we ran our strongest campaign since the Leicester South by election. Even in the weakest areas~like Whitstable and South Wales~we began to put Respect back on the map.

And no one reading George’s document would think that in the last two years we have sunk significant resources into creating Student Respect. This has been an outstanding success in the colleges, has had significant electoral success in local colleges and at the NUS conference. Student Respect has reshaped the left in the colleges and on significant issues moved NUS to the left. This year, for the first time ever, Respect supporters have won NUS to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition.

George’s document questions the Organising for Fighting Unions initiative yet it has held the most successful union activists conference since the 1980s, effective local rallies, large fringe meetings at union conferences and a highly successful May Day rally. Without this initiative Respect would have had little purchase on the rising tide of industrial resistance.

3. What is the truth about the organisational and financial failure of Respect?

George is unfortunately poorly informed about Respect’s organisation. There are misunderstandings and factual errors in nearly every paragraph of his document. Here we correct just some of the most important:

· The Respect national office is neither ‘amateurish’ or ‘irresponsible’ with money. We have brought the debt of Respect down from £21,000 in 2006 to just £3,000 in 2007. There are now no unpaid long term invoices.

· Respect did not ‘lose £5,000’ on the Fighting Unions Conference. The cost of the conference was exclusively carried by Organising For Fighting Unions from its own funds raised through conference fees, trade union and other donations. In fact Respect made £168 from the sale of merchandise at the conference.

· It was a Respect national conference decision to prioritise the building of Fighting Unions. The NC resolution on this issue was passed overwhelmingly as was a North Birmingham resolution also calling for the prioritisation of OFFU work.

· The national office staff work systematically on the membership, with the result that the figures for renewed members are significantly higher than at this time last year.

· It is not possible to collect money on Pride because the organisers exclude bodies who collect money on Pride. There was no instruction from the national office to attend Pride, only a letter encouraging people to do so. Most floats at Pride cost between £4000 and £5000 but because the national office obtained a free flat bed truck and other material at below cost price the cost of the Respect float came in just below the budgeted £2000. Every demonstration costs money. This was money well spent when Respect is constantly under attack for not supporting LGBT rights. The Barking Mela is attended by 60,000 but Pride is attended by more than 500,000 people.

· There was not ‘an exceedingly poor involvement of the wider national membership’ in the Shadwell by election. Abjol Miah, the leader of the Respect group of Tower Hamlets councillors, phoned John Rees after the election to congratulate him on the wider mobilisation and to express the view that the victory would not have been possible without it.

· It was a decision of the national officers, in line with conference policy, to prioritise the Fighting Union conference leaflet on the Manchester STWC demo. There were, of course, Respect placards, Respect stalls and other Respect materials.

· The ‘Brown coronation’ demo did have a specially produced Respect recruitment leaflet.

· All appointments of national office staff have been agreed by the national officers. Any objections to the individuals or the process could have been raised at the officers group or at the NC at any time.

· Salma has not been ‘airbrushed’ from the organisation. For instance, she was invited to speak at the STW conference, to chair a major session at the OFFU conference and to speak at the Birmingham OFFU rally. She declined all these invitations. She is a member of the officers group but has not been able to attend a meeting. She is a member of the NC but has not been able to attend a meeting since the last Respect conference. Salma was a welcome speaker at the Women’s Conference in March this year.We are happy to discuss this situation with Salma if she has further suggestions for improving contact between us.

· Nearly all the members named for inclusion in the elections committee are already members of the officers group~the problem is that some of them rarely, if ever, attend.

4. Is there a crisis in the leadership of Respect?

Yes there is~but since the evidence in George’s document is not accurate it cannot be for the reasons he gives. Rather the crisis has developed like this: at the foundation of Respect there was a high degree of consensus over the nature of the organisation. This was a result of many long hours of discussion hammering out the founding statement and the programme of Respect.

But in the course of three years the growth of the organisation, the pressure of success, the changes in the struggle have all meant that new problems have arisen on which divergent views have emerged.

These are of course perfectly ordinary disagreements over strategy and tactics and they occur in any political organisation. But over time and taken together they amount to a different perspective on how we respond to the pressures of Labourism and electoralism. We believe that the constant adaptation to what are referred to as ‘community leaders’ in Tower Hamlets is lowering the level of politics and making us vulnerable to the attacks and pressures brought on us by New Labour. It is alienating us not only from the white working class but also from the more radical sections of the Bengali community, both secular and Muslim, who feel that Respect is becoming the party of a narrow and conservative trend in the area.

These pressures exist everywhere we are successful. But they do not always have the same outcome. In Preston and Newham for instance similar debates have been resolved on terms which have strengthened the original vision of Respect. And although this has sometimes meant that some would-be Respect supporters have turned to Labour it has done us no serious or long term damage. Indeed, by raising the level of politics and the coherence of the Respect cadre it has made us stronger. Remember at the last council elections the Respect vote in Newham was higher than that in Tower Hamlets even though the number of councillors elected was less.

These issues of orientation and candidate selection have now been raised as national issues by George’s document and it is important that we resolve them in ways that stop the drift away from the vision that we initially held of Respect as a radical left project.

5. More democracy and accountability

The most important thing we can do to improve the performance of Respect is to realise that the new prime minister is not only weakened on the issue of Iraq, as was Tony Blair, but even more vulnerable on issues of privatisation, deregulation and trade union rights. Brown is after all the author of New Labour’s neo-liberal economic policy and is now confronted with more industrial unrest that Tony Blair ever had to face.

Respect must therefore continue to locate itself in the labour movement mainstrean and among the core of the organised working class if it is to progress beyond its current areas of success. The launch of Fighting Unions and the intervention in Pride were meant to, and did, advance this perspective. More, not less, of this kind of work is necessary.

If we are to use the discussion provoked by George’s document productively then we must insist that there is a greater degree of accountability and democracy in Respect.

The work of our elected representatives is rarely effectively reviewed by the democratic bodies of Respect, not least because, with a few honourable exceptions, the leading elected figures in Respect rarely attend them or report to them.

Indeed one of the crucial weaknesses of Respect is that the work of the MPs office, those of the various council groups and the national office is not co-ordinated.

Important media and political initiatives, which have a profound effect on Respect, are taken with no consultation or prior discussion.

We need a return to the democratic structures of Respect as the primary site of these discussions. Those elected to the NC and the national officers group must attend and discuss their work with other elected comrades in Respect.

6. George’s organisational proposals

George makes two suggestions: that there should be an elections committee appointed and that a national organiser should be appointed after interview.

These are sudeful ideas but they need to be adopted in a way that is consistent with the democratic structure of Respect:

The committee with the personnel that George suggests (except for Yvonne Ridley) already exists. It is the national officers group elected by and accountable to the NC. All that needs to happen for this to become the committee that George wants is for the people who have never or rarely attend it to turn up. Others can be co-opted, as the Respect constitution allows, according to the committees wishes and by agreement with the NC. If we wish to make a special concentration on the coming elections the officers group can meet as an elections committee on, say, every second week.

To appoint a second committee is unwise since it gives two committees, the officers and the elections committee, a brief covering very many of the same areas with no indication which body, if there is a conflict of interest, takes precedent.

The appointment of another national office worker, whatever their title, would be very welcome. There is of course no problem with an open interview process of the kind that the national office has already used in the past.

But any worker so appointed will have to work under the direction of the elected officers of Respect.

Moreover, before we advertise such a post it would be wise to know where the wages for this employee will come from. Indeed it would be sensible if wages were in the bank before we took someone on.

7. Where do we go from here?

The discussion over the future of Respect can be one which strengthens the organisation. A renewed committment to resolving tactical and strategic issues through the democratic structures of Respect, an increase in the accountablity of all the elected officers and elected representatives of Respect and an insistence on maintaining the radical impulsed on which Respect was founded can give us all greater confidence in facing the challenges ahead.

But most of all we need to get to work on the GLA campaign and the preparations for next year's council elections and what may be an early general election. Respect's radical message wins more votes today than it has ever done. But it needs to be put more credibly before an even wider range of voters.

If we all recommit ourselves to this task the future for Respect can rise above the already great heights that it has scaled in its first years.

John Rees, national secretary
Elaine Graham Leigh, national treasurer

(what a load of rubbish!)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Brothers “grow up” & “chop the greedy global financiers”

The State We’re In: Will Hutton bashes “greedy” trade union leaders and global financiers - I must admit to being a bit peeved with Will after reading his article on trade unions militancy the other week (Hat tip to Tom). Yes, I agree with many of his points about the odd “Life on Mars” Don Quixote Union baron (mention no names). However, Will spoils his case by suggesting that all is needed is for Unions to be some sort of proactive “Stakeholders”. The balance of power in such a partnership is still usually weighted decisively in favour of the employer.

A progressive trade union still needs “teeth” otherwise workers will not be convinced that they have to join (and pay subs). Strikes should always be the weapons of the last resort (and if properly called – fought ruthlessly to win) but being “stakeholders” is just not enough. Maybe worker representatives should be elected on large company boards? Should the vast amounts of workers’ capital invested in pension and insurance funds be used more appropriately in line with their owner’s wishes and beliefs? And so on….

Will is far more convincing on his analysis over the current financial “crisis” in the UK (and world). He has been to a certain extent proved right by his predictions of “at least a couple of household British financial names have to be offered a lifeline”. - Northern Rock?

I am personally pretty sure that this will only have a short term effect on the market (this is just “what happens” in a capitalist society). However, what is not right, is that we fail to regulate financial markets properly. For example, large financial institutions make eye watering large amounts of money by encouraging loans to people when there is a real likelihood of them being unable to repay those loans. At the same time “neutral” credit rating agencies make their big bucks by recommending these “no hoper” borrowers as secure credit risks!

Some may just laugh and say “serve them all right”. Yes, but in my experience, in each financial disaster (let’s make a list of those in my lifetime - Maxwell, Lloyds Insurance, Mortgage Endowments, Personal Pension Schemes, Equitable Life, Encom, Split Investment trusts, Farepak, Northern Rock etc) lots of ordinary people suffer – big time.

My point Will, is perhaps that the same degree of radical measures that you want trade unions to adopt also need to taken up by the financial markets. Just think, maybe most modern day British trade unions are probably more innovative and responsive than the reactionary and old fashioned City interests? Just a thought….

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gone but not forgotten: George Woznicki

Today it is a year since George (Jerzy) Woznicki died of cancer aged 44.

George was a dedicated UNISON shop steward and safety rep.

He is sorely missed and we still find it hard to believe he has gone. On the 18 October it is his birthday and on the Friday afterwards a few of us will celebrate his birthday in the usual manner (beer and curry).

Our thoughts today are with his wife, Sue and their children, Eddie and Gemma.

Here is my tribute to George at the time.

George Woznicki – A Tribute

I would like to say a few words about George, from the perspective of someone who felt himself privileged to call George a friend, but also a work colleague and a fellow activist in the trade union UNISON.

George’s best friend, however, without a shadow of doubt, is his wife Susan. His friendship and love for Susan and his children, Eddie and Gemma, was obvious to anyone who knew him.

However, George also had many, many other friends. This was because he was compassionate, like able, funny, generous and very, very honest (sometimes too honest). But also he was loyal.

All of his friends will miss him.

George also cared about his work with the Council. Whether as a caretaker, a Housing Patrol officer or finally as a repairs inspector. He really believed in the concept of public service; and working hard for the people of Tower Hamlets. He did not like letting people down or people receiving poor quality or shoddy services.

George was also passionate about his role as UNISON trade union Steward and Safety Rep and was always prepared to fight other people’s battles. There are a lot of people who are very grateful to him for his courage and kindness.

My most vivid memory of George is when during the last local Council election, George and I, were part of Unison team, distributing anti-British National Party leaflets amongst some non-lifted residential blocks in Mile End and Globe Town ward.

We got separated from the rest of the team and in a cul-de-sac; we came across a group of BNP skinheads delivering their leaflets of hate.

George or rather Jerzy (pronounced Eu-rik) was of course the Slavic son of a Polish emigre. Remember, the fascists use to describe the Poles as being a “slave race”; George strode up to the BNP, stood his ground and starred them out, standing proud and contemptuous.

They walked around him without saying a word and quickly disappeared. Ironically one reason why the present day representatives of the so-called “master race” didn’t cause any trouble; was because they were so obviously knackered from walking up and down the communal stairs!

However, George was also an “individual” and a free thinker. He was proud to call himself a Socialist, while at the same time fondly recalling his service as a London rifleman in the Territorial Army.

Today, those of us who were honoured to know him, pay tribute and mourn him. Later today in Bow we will also begin to celebrate his life. However, now I want to say on behalf of all of us is - goodbye George: Sue’s beloved husband, Eddie & Gemma’s beloved Daddy, a beloved Brother, our friend, my mate, my Comrade. Goodbye George.

Finally, a very short poem by Joyce Grenfell, which I think George would have thought appropriate today.

Its Title is: -

Life Goes On

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower
Nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I am gone
Speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves
That I have known

Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So .... sing as well


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lighten the Load: Health & Safety Week 07

Ignore dinosaurs such as Jeremy Clarkson, there is only just over a month before this year’s European Health and Safety week (22nd – 26th October 2007. The campaign is organised by the European Agency for Safety & Health at Work. In Britain the Health and Safety Executive and the TUC (and even the CBI) work together to promote the event.

Every year there is a different theme. In 2007 is called “Lighten the Load” and is about trying to prevent Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). This is more usually known as backache and muscular problems. MSD is the most common form of work related illness in the UK and Europe. It affects about a million people in the UK each year and 25% of the population report MSD problems.

On the Wednesday of this week (this year 24 October 2007) the trade unions designate it as “National Inspection Day” and encourage safety reps to carry out workplace health & safety inspections on this day. I’ll go with our caretakers to check out their equipment and have a look at their manual handling assessments. However, many MSD injuries occur in offices, so use this day to review your display screen and work station assessments.

The aim of the week is to raise awareness and encourage prevention. Good health & safety at work is not rocket science, organisations can reduce sickness by working with trade union safety reps. By ensuring ongoing good quality training, meaningful consultation, supporting regular inspections and reviews of risk assessments. Also, proper investigation of incidents when things go wrong and people get hurt.

Photos above of Jeremy being presented with a "custard pie" by HSE Chief Executive, Geoffrey Podger in disguise (not really).

Friday, September 14, 2007

SWP attack Galloway in "Islamo-Trot’" War

A quick post - Check out the Socialist Unity post on the SWP's response to Galloway's attack on their influence over Respect.

Things are getting very nasty between the factions (shame!)

Will post something more when had to chance to check things out further.

The SWP I think should apply for a refund from the Charm School (George was as usual expelled)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ricky Gervais: politically incorrect and live at the Apollo

Off message but just back from seeing Ricky Gervais who is appearing at the Hammersmith Apollo, London. Great show, a sell out and a superb performance. First time I have seen him live, even thought I suspect tomorrow I might think he was a bit "out of order". Which, in the very unlikely event he would ever read this would no doubt bring him out in pearls of laughter and suggest I am a C**T. Despite this he was not as filthy "live" as I had heard but pretty near the mark. His timing and delivery is however genius.

Don't go if you have kids who have cancer or are autistic, if you have M.E, AIDS or are fat. Other sensitive issues covered not at all sensitively are famine, Dawn French's weight, murdered prostitutes, race, climate change, religion, Chris Tarrent's divorce etc. I suspect that a less skilled comic would not be able to get away with it. He himself said "one false move and I'm Jim Davidson".

Finally if you are drunk, do not heckle him since he will make you look a complete and utter doughnut! Seats still available - give him a go (free CD on every seat).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gordon thanks Irene for recruiting 257 UNISON members!

Newham local government branch officer (and UNISON NEC Labour Link member) Irene Stacey was yesterday awarded the TUC lay officers "Organising Award" by the Prime Minister. Hat tip to UNISON

TUC President Alison Shepherd noted, “40 of those new recruits - many of them minority ethnic women and many working part-time - have gone on to become union reps or contacts themselves.And Ms Stacey's secret? "I always carry recruitment forms with me," she says, "whether it's one or 10. Because if you sign up just one member, that's one member who's got UNISON protection."

I am sure that any trade union rep will be impressed by Irene recruiting so many members in one year, especially since I believe that Newham’s membership density was pretty high beforehand. Well done Irene!

Knowing Irene, I have no doubt that she would have also had a quick word with Gordon about some local trade union issues!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Low pay misery of working in British baby farms

The TUC web and e-newsletter site for activists Unionreps reported on the first ever criminal prosecution over the Minimum wage. Leading aside the fairly obvious question over why it has taken so long for there to be a criminal prosecution (the National Minimum Wage Act was passed in 1998, and has been in force for 8 years – why on earth is this the first prosecution, surely no-one is trying to suggest this is the first ever breach?)

You may also ask why the proprietor of Rascals Day Nursery in Walthamstow, East London was only fined £2,500 and £500 in costs when the judge referred to her “clear and deliberate intent to obstruct officers and this was a scandalous breach of the National Minimum Wage legislation." It would appear that the nursery owner deliberately refused to co-operate or give access to Minimum wage inspectors. Why she was not charged with “perverting the course of justice” and jailed? Is this nursery still running under the same owner despite her obvious gross dishonesty?

What is really annoying about this case is that I found an advert on a web site which boasted that this nursery “is the least expensive nursery school in the area”. No wonder, if they rob staff of wages. It also drives down standards since schools that pay and treat their staff decently cannot compete with such cowboys.

A close relative of mine has recently qualified as a child care worker and I have been horrified at what she has experienced during her training and work experience. Not only the low pay that she should expect even if she worked for a local authority primary school (£12,000 pa even with a 2 year diploma equivalent to 3 “A” levels) but the standards in many private nurseries are frankly appalling. Child activity plans are fiddled, no outdoor playing facilities, some nurseries “encourage” kids to sleep for excessive periods, unqualified cooks and everything is done on the “cheap” . Some owners also treat their staff little better than serfs. Shouting, swearing and bullying vulnerable staff. Paying minimum wage (at best), minimum annual leave, no sick pay or pensions.

Affordable and decent child care in this country is also a key political issue that does not get the importance that it deserves. I haven’t got any kids but working parents tell me this is a central and fundamental issue to them. By coincidence the Daycare Trust also made a report on Unionreps about the lack of financial support for nursery care by the British government compared to elsewhere in Europe. If our economy really depends upon both parents working then the state must spend the money needed to provide decent childcare.

I know that a lot of parents are worried about standards in nurseries and I don’t want to add to their fears. However, there are real problems and I think that part of the answer at least is a significant expansion of state provision, financial support and regulation in child care. In this age of “evidence based policies” and “joined up working”, why doesn’t all this strike home somewhere in Westminister?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Yorkshire Three Peaks

Just when you thought you were safe…more holiday pictures! Finished off staying at a cottage in Sedbergh, Yorkshire Dales. I went for a walk up Whernside, the third of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the area’s highest point. Started off from the Ribblehead Viaduct which carries the “Settle to Carlisle” Railway. A feat of Victorian engineering which however caused so many deaths amongst the “navvies” building it (accidents and smallpox) that the local churchyard had to be extended. The Rough Guide describe it as a “wonderfully bleak spot”

I walked up the other two peaks Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent (over 3 consecutive days – the record is 2 hours and 46mins by a fell runner for all 3!).

Thinking of organising a trade union team to come back and walk the peaks next year? In 2004 a group of us did the national 3 Peaks (Ben Nevis, Scarfell and Snowdon). It’s probably been long enough for us to forget that after a quite horrendous experience (it absolutely poured down with rain and we got utterly lost in Scarfell) most of us promised never to do anything like that again.

Picture - enjoying a refreshing pint of Yorkshire bitter after Whernside.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Slash wages, Provoke Strikes, Sack Stewards & Sue: Fremantle – The Third Sector Nightmare?

In March this year I put up a post supporting Barnet UNISON over their campaign to stop vulnerable ex-local authority care workers, having their wages and working conditions slashed by this so called caring “not for profit” company, Fremantle. Not only are their basic wages being cut by about 30% but their sickness pay, holidays and overtime rates have been cut. See also the UNISON web site.

Since then there has been strike action by workers opposed to the cuts. That was hardly surprising. These workers were already low paid. What has been surprising is the appalling campaign of intimidation being waged against the strikers and their supporters.

Using tactics reminiscent of the most violent “union busters” in the United States, Fremantle have sacked one of the striking stewards (Andrew Rogers) and have even launched legal action and shut down the campaign page (not yet the site) of the well respected international trade union web site “Labourstart” . Labourstart have been able to relaunch this campaign on a new server. Check out “We will not be Silenced

Fremantle’s web site claims they operate In 50 locations across Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Maidenhead, Barnet, Harrow and employ 1,500 staff. I’m not sure where or how Fremantle get their money from, however, it is absolutely clear that there are serious problems with the way that it treats its employees and uses what must be at source, public money, to launch what appears to be vindictive legal action against critics. I’ll have to do some digging about who provides contracts and funding.

Fremantle is in danger of discrediting the entire “not for profit” Voluntary sector. The Trustees need to take control of their senior management team and sort this out.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Housing Pension scheme deficit reduced by £103 Million, Workers pensions slashed?

Pleased to see that the deficit in the Social Housing Pension fund (SHPS) has been reduced in the last 2 years from £283 million to £180 million. Many Housing organisations subscribe to this pension fund; it has about 53,000 members in some 700 schemes, many of which will of course be Unison members.

However, I must admit to feeling exasperated (to say the least) that many social housing organisations (e.g. RSL’s, Housing associations or voluntary groups) were apparently advised to either leave the SHPS or pick an inferior scheme in the last two years because this terrible “deficit” and supposed long term increased payroll costs. The original deficit had very little to do with any increases in people living longer.

Many UNISON members have either been refused access to a decent final salary scheme or had their existing scheme radically downgraded. For what reason?

Pensions are long term saving plans, usually over 20-30 even 40 years. Stocks markets almost by definition go up and down. Why was there this “panic” to reduce benefits from traditional and sound 1/60th final salary schemes to grossly inferior 1/70th; CARE schemes or even group personal pension schemes?

Since funded pension schemes assets will go up and down in line with stock market volatility, my point is that it is wrong to change your staff pension scheme on the basis of short term valuations, especially if you are a socially responsible organisation. Housing organisation often also employ local people and residents. Elder poverty is one of the greater evils in our society and it is simply wrong for housing organisations to contribute to this poverty for short time gain. Come on finance directors and boards - you know what the decent thing is! Save your existing Final Salary Pensions Schemes and if you have changed it, change it back.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Respect is cursed; moribund; weak; exhausted; amateur, mismanaged; unhealthy, irresponsible…says Galloway

Respect faces “oblivion” - George Galloway also suggests that his SWP “allies” are corrupt (giving internal Party jobs to political pals), interferes in internal elections and not pulling their weight in Council elections. He also gives the green light to the homophobes in Respect by condemning efforts to get Muslim Respect Councillors to attend the Gay Pride festival.

Read it for yourself on the Socialist Unity blog, the 8 page letter that the Gorgeous one wrote to Respect’s National Council. Also, in the comments see the brief (but obviously p****d off) response by the SWP. It all appears to be genuine.

There are a number of weird and wonderful theories flooding the anti-Respect blogsphere at the moment about what the old rogue Galloway is up to with this blatant attack on his new comrades. I’ll give you my pennyworth as well.

Firstly, I loved the comment posted that Galloway (of all people) attacking the way that the SWP have tried to control Respect and the way they demonise anyone who disagrees with them, as a bit like “Yorkshire Ripper blasts Jack the Ripper”.

It has also been pointed out that Galloway is a life long Stalinist (“the worse day in my life was when the Soviet Union fell”). The Trotskyite SWP seems to have overlooked this basic fact. I suspect he has always despised the SWP and certainly his attack is reminiscent of the old CPGB attacks on “wreakers and splitters” (e.g. trots). I think that he has now calculated that the SWP have served their purpose and they either knuckle down to life under Uncle George or leave.

The Bengali community leaders who provide his power base in Tower Hamlets and elsewhere, now find the SWP repugnant and are fed up of being told what to do, especially over issues such as gay rights and trade unions. Equally, many idealists in the SWP (and there are a few) find the socially conservative business and religious side of Respect abhorrent. It is only the lust for power that has kept both sides together so far.

However, the Shadwell by-election which Galloway has made so much about was actually very important to him, since it seemed to show him for the first time that Respect could win (just) without the mass troops of the SWP. See the comments in his letter about the lack of campaigning by the Respect SWPers and their failure to attend the victory party. As someone else put it Jamat i islaami can now deliver the political letters and no doubt provide funds.

The Ealing Southall by-election a few weeks ago where Respect only got 3.5% is Galloway’s nightmare in his battle with Jim Fitzpatrick MP in Poplar and Limehouse. The Respect candidate by all accounts had no community support and all the SWPers did was to wind up and antagonise local people.

I reckon that Galloway is gambling that the SWP will back down and let him run the show. The present leadership of the SWP have invested heavily in Respect. Also, frankly there is nowhere else for them to go. The prospect of selling newspapers at street corners for the rest of your life must suck. Even if the SWP do leave, then some will remain (they have gone “native” and realise that the SWP is in a dead end) and their numbers will be made up from the rest of the extreme left who refuse to have anything to do with Respect because of the influence of the SWP.

We will wait and see.
p.s google "anathematisation"

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe (Performances and Pickets)

Spent a week doing the “fringe” in Edinburgh. More my better half’s idea of fun than mine. As I use to live in Edinburgh I feel entitled to be a little sniffy about the “fringe”. However, Edinburgh is a smashing place to spend a holiday anytime of the year. Apart from the weather… one comedian compared Scotland with having a “stunningly beautiful girlfriend… who dribbles all the time”.

While I was there on Thursday (23 August) there was even a 24 hour strike by Edinburgh Council workers over proposed cuts to staff and services. I went to the main picket held outside the Council Offices in the High Street (Royal Mile) to offer support. It was the strangest picket line I have ever been to since it was held only a 100m or so from the main fringe ticket office, the area was full of performers touting for business and tourists. The pickets (UNISON) themselves were articulate, well motivated and confident that they will be able to reverse the cuts. Good luck!

The fringe is now over - my top tips for 2008:-

Don’t believe any reviews
Try out the Free Fringe events first (sampler events) then if you like what you see then you can pay for a ticket to see that show.
Don’t bother to go and see acts in Edinburgh who are well established and who you can see in your home area anyway.
Remember the art exhibitions and musical shows as well as the comedy acts.
Walk up Arthur Seat regardless of the weather.
Have a “Haggis supper” from a local fish and chip shop

The last show we saw was a late night alternative comedy venue off London Road which ended with the comedian telling a roomful of about 40 people that he was going to recreate the “Battle of Madrid” 1939 from the Spanish Civil War. He divided the room into two groups and made everyone stand up and move. The right hand group he called the Fascists or nationalists and the left hand group the Republicans or communists. He called on the Fascists to stand up and advance towards the republicans while the republicans had to remain sitting and argue amongst themselves. The Fascists won.