Friday, February 29, 2008

“Construction Deaths on a Par with Armed Forces”

While the latest news is that Prince Harry (correctly in my view) has been removed from Afghanistan following the disclosure that he was there with his military unit, I was reminded of certain comments. Guess who said: -

“In the six years to 2004, there were 504 construction-related deaths, and 522 in the Armed forces over the same period. It’s pretty staggering – do people really think when they go into construction that they’re going into an industry that has nearly a high fatality as the Armed services”.

This person was the guest speaker at this years Institute of Safety & Health (IOSH) annual Dinner. He then went on to say about the IOSH

"There is an unbelievable and totally unfair negative image of your profession in the UK. The prevention of work-related injuries and deaths is too important not to fight it”.

The Daily Hate and the “health & safety are the new Taliban” brigade will no doubt be seething about this impossible leftie for saying such a thing.

Well, believe it or not the speaker was Tory shadow work and pensions minister, Andrew Selous.
Whether he means it or not is another thing of course.

In just less than two months it is “Workers Memorial Day” 28 April 2008. I’ll post further about this important event.

International RSI Day, 29 February 2008

Since today is after all this International Repetitive Strain Injury Day and the TUC poster this year is called “repeat after me” I am repeating my post (below) on this subject from Monday.

"Another important health & safety campaign this week and yet another straight lift from the excellent Risks - the weekly TUC email bulletin on H&S."Union reps should start gearing up for International RSI Day, the last day of February every year. In 2008 - a leap year - that means Friday 29 February.

Whether you do a workplace risk assessment, a body mapping session or just a bit of general awareness rising, make sure you do something. Unions can order a special 'Repeat after me' RSI day poster from the Hazards Campaign.

The massively popular posters, produced by Hazards magazine, say: 'Repeat after me: Too much, too fast, too often is too painful too stand. Repetitive strain injuries. Don't let them repeat the same old mistakes.''Repeat after me' poster. Email the Hazards Campaign for poster order details."

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Last night Ken Livingstone ended a powerful speech to Labour trade unionists by speculating whether the “Standard” (aka the “Evening Boris”) would ever print any of the truth about Ken and the Labour Assembly members during the current campaign.

Of course everyone laughed at the prospect of the “Standard” accurately reporting the significant reduction in crime in London.

The event was organised by TULO and held in the historic old Town Hall in Stratford, East London.

Ken started the speech by reminiscing about when he started work as a technician in the NHS. Then he was proud how London bus driver’s wages had been significantly increased and where starting to reach the levels of tube drivers, who he felt had similar responsibilities. Ken reminded trade unionists that the first official meeting he had after becoming Mayor was with the South East region TUC.

He stressed the achievement of the London Living Wage by the Labour Assembly. All directly employed staff is paid at least £7.20 per hour (the minimum wage is only £5.52). The Assembly is now using its £11 Billion annual budget to not only get all their contractors to pay a living wage but also the firms that they sub-contract work. He pointed out that at first many contractors complained that this had increased contract costs by 7%. However, soon they realised that surprise, surprise they were saving money. Bosses found that staff turnover was reduced; sickness rates were down and productively rose.

Ken made the “bleeding obvious” point is his direct and colourful way that if you “stop treating people like s**t they work better”.

He is hopeful that the private sector are beginning to take this on board with regard to a Living wage. However, he also wants Labour Councils in London to be “pathfinders” and set an example.

Our Mayor was very proud of the GLA £4 Billion housing budget (he said thanks to Gordon Brown) and its target of 50,000 affordable homes of which 2/3 should be affordable rented accommodation. The remaining 1/3 should be affordable shared ownership e.g to give the opportunity for a nurse or junior teacher to be able to buy. A couple with a joint income of £35K should be able to buy a home. Ken was insistent that the quality of these homes will be good - “not cheap and crappy”. Also they will not be mainly 1 or 2 bed (such as the present) but 3/4/5 bed family homes. Which are desperately needed in London.

He was clearly looking forward to the transfer of skills and training responsibilities to the GLA. It is estimated that in the near future there will be 500,000 new jobs in London. It is vital that Londoners are given the training and skills to make sure that they can get these jobs.

Also Ken was pleased that the GLA was about to announce a retro refit of all GLA Buildings to increase energy efficiency and the £25 per day charge on gas guzzling motorists.

The reduction in racist attacks in London compared to the rise elsewhere in the country was obviously a justifiable source of pride. While everything is not a bed of roses, even after the 7/7 Bombings, Londoners stuck together and there was not the religiously and cultural violence that other Capital cities might have experienced when dealing with such a crisis.

Ken then confronted the spectacle of “Boris”. Boris Johnson is a joke but in this “Age of Celebrity” he is a very dangerous opponent. Especially since many left learning supporters consider him such a lightweight that they do not take him at all seriously. This is an appalling mistake. Boris is currently 4% in the lead in the polls (first preference vote). However, he has constantly been within 10% of Ken in the polls.

Ken finished his speech by explaining that he wanted in this election to help rebuild the “London Labour election machine”and :-

To defeat the BNP (an “openly fascist and racist party”), turnout was everything. If we had a turnout of only 40% then they will not get a seat. If in places such as City & East, which is and should be a Labour Heartland, we can increase the turnout (last time 29%) to the London average (37%) then we will do well.

I thought it was a really good meeting, Quite relaxed and informal when compared to the fund raising event for Ken & the GLA in the same venue early this month.

At the meeting, trade union reps from Newham were able to organise a leaflet stuffing and “mail out” meeting for next Monday and about the TULO days of action on March 9 and March 17. I will post on this over the weekend.

In short I thought that last night was a really good evening. I am positive about the result, however, I feel that the political old war horse that is Ken, senses that activists are simply not taking Boris and the BNP seriously and unless we all get our fingers out and do some work we will have the worse combination of a right wing Tory Mayor, Tory Assembly and openly racist Nazis assembly members.

(Picture of Ken, Gloria Hanson -UNISON London Convenor and Moi).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reclaiming the Union

A comrade has sent me the latest edition ("March 2008" - not yet on line) of “Workers” the monthly magazine of the “Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist” (which bizarrely some red baiters seem to think has taken over UNISON???). Their article on page 3 is pretty interesting with a "Marxist" interpretation of recent events in London UNISON?


Reclaiming the union

THE POLITICAL sea change in London Unison continues. For the third year running, the members painfully reclaiming their Regional Council from the hands of one or two remaining entryists in the Labour Party and their ultra-left allies, have triumphed again in key convenor and regional committee elections.

The members returning the union to its members – a refreshing sign of maturity and clarity in the trade unions either bereft of direction or mesmerised with meaningless sloganising."

On this point - who am I to disagree?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Toy Town revolutionary “ballot rigging” allegations in UNISON Labour Link Elections

A series of astonishing admissions rocked tonight’s London UNISON Labour Link Forum meeting held at the House of Commons. UNISON “Labour Link” (which use to be known as the Affiliated Political Fund or APF) is the voluntarily levy paid by many UNISON members in order to support the Labour Party and lobby for member positive policies within the Party.

Every year a Labour Link forum is held in all UNISON regions. Labour Link Delegates from every branch in the region are invited. These delegates are also Labour Party members. This year’s forum I believe was the best attended for many years.

West Ham MP and long standing UNISON member Lyn Brown (see above with delegates) and her Parliamentary staff had organised the booking of the committee room and also attended the meeting

Before the “ballot rigging” allegations there had been what I considered to be a pretty interesting and informative meeting with contributions from UNISON Labour MP’s Sidiq Khan (I missed him due to a late running discipline hearing), Joan Ryan MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Joanne McCartney, London Assembly member. The reports concentrated obviously on the London GLA/ Mayor Elections and stopping the BNP getting an assembly member. However, we also discussed “bread & butter” Labour issues such as affordable housing, London Living Wage, Agency workers, Equalities, transport and Policing.

I asked Joanne about UNISON working with a Labour GLA members and the Mayor over the new housing investment powers and trying to ensure that all construction workers and housing staff in GLA supported projects are paid a living wage. Joanne was positive about working with London UNISON over these new powers and supporting a London living wage. However, she warned that there were serious legal problems with trying to “insist” that contractors pay a living wage.

Head of Labour Link, Keith Birch was also a guest speaker. Amongst over things he reported on was the work that Labour Link were carrying out on rights for agency workers (fingers crossed positive news – I’ll post on it anon)

The fun and games occurred during the debate on resolutions. There was a motion from Islington Local Government Branch about improving member participation in London UNISON Link. The motion (non Labour Movement trekies please bear with me) proposed changing the existing system where London regional committee delegates are elected by a ballot of regional branch Labour Link delegates (or if there is no Labour Link officer the Branch secretaries) to electing all committee members at the regional forum meeting.

Now, there are various arguments for and against such a proposal. However, what was absolutely astonishing is that the supporters of this motion argued the case on the grounds that under the existing system branch secretaries who are political enemies of the Labour Party cast votes in favour of far left labour Link candidates.

Andrew Berry, the proposer of the motion admitted that he had received the vote in all the past Labour Link elections from Rahul Patel, the branch secretary of Westminster LG UNISON who is a well known member of the SWP/Respect. Another speaker said that in Hackney LG branch, there was no Labour Link officer so the ballot paper was always filled out by either SWP or SPEW branch secretaries. Other speakers alleged that this practice was widespread and that non Labour Party supporters were voting for candidates in UNISON Labour Link elections.

I think this is nonsense. The regional Labour Link officer clarified this issue during the debate that a branch secretary cannot vote in the ballot unless this is as a result of a consultation process of Labour Link (APF) payers. No-one used any “honest broker” arguments. (Yeah)

So, it would appear from what the speakers in favour of this motion said tonight they have received votes in Labour Link elections from political enemies of the Labour Party without there being any consultation or meeting with Labour Link members. Other speaker’s alleged that this practice had been widespread in other branches where there is not an elected Labour Link branch officer. These speakers were quite definite that there had been no consultative process and that the ballot decision was taken by SWP/SPEW branch secretaries purely on their own political bigotry.

What I found absolutely fascinating about this whole process is that no one who had benefited from the receiving of, lets say... “improper votes” from declared revolutionary enemies of the Labour Party appeared to be concerned why the SWP/SPEW wanted to vote for them in the first place?

It’s a strange world.

The motion (and similar ones) was thankfully defeated.

Cathy comes Home to... “demoralised, underpaid and threatened staff” ?

Above is a quote from a Shelter trade union member who contacted me following the overwhelming vote by Shelter staff to strike. Last month I posted on the dispute between the Housing Charity Shelter and its employees over its plans to cut terms and conditions and to make staff work longer for no extra pay. I really hoped that this dispute could be resolved quickly since Shelter does marvellous work for its many vulnerable clients.

However, this is not to be and members have voted by a majority of 71% (on a very relatively very high turnout of 65.8%) to strike. Shelter has threatened to sack staff who do not accept these cuts.

The first strike is on 5 March 2008. Must find out the nearest picket line?

Ken Loach (the film director who directed “Cathy Come Home” which is credited with helping to launch “Shelter”) has been interviewed in the Guardian calling for people to stop financially supporting “Shelter” until this dispute is resolved. Not sure about that one? No mention of such a call in the T&G website? I’ll go with what the unions advise on that one. See Shelter boss, Adam Sampson response.

It would appear that a cause of this whole disaster is that Shelter management (who may or may not be paid huge amounts of money but do seem to be fond of paying large amounts of money for “change consultants” and expensive refurbishments of their head office) are fearful that unless they can cut staffing costs they will be uncompetitive and lose legal aid contracts to the “evil ones” such as outsourcing giant “Capita”. This is serious issue across the public/private sector. Is it right that organisations can lose contracts to firms that do so by simply slashing the wages of existing staff? Doesn’t TUPE apply? Should new starters also be protected under TUPE? Should the new Warwick Agreement between the trade unions and the Government include all such contracts? (YES).

By co-incidence during the Labour Party conference last year, at the UNISON Housing fringe, Adam Sampson, was a panel speaker alongside the then housing Minister Yvette Cooper and the UNISON Head of Local Government, Heather Wakefield. During the Q&A I asked Yvette to respond to Heather’s comment about excessive pay rises for senior management in many Housing Associations. Yvette appeared to be concerned about the unfortunate tendency for these managers to pay themselves very large pay rises and said that the government was aware of the issue and will take firm action to stop it if necessary. Interestingly Adam also piped up with an attack of such housing associations, since he claimed that their actions meant that Shelter had to pay more money to recruit senior staff. This he said was causing financial problems across the voluntary sector.

So Adam, is the reason you have to cut the terms and conditions of relatively low paid staff due to money you think you have to pay to recruit senior executives? I think we should be told.....

Monday, February 25, 2008

International RSI Day, 29 February 2008

Another important health & safety compaign this week
and yet another straight lift from the excellent Risks - the weekly TUC email bulletin on H&S.

"Union reps should start gearing up for International RSI Day, the last day of February every year. In 2008 - a leap year - that means Friday 29 February. Whether you do a workplace risk assessment, a bodymapping session or just a bit of general awareness raising, make sure you do something. Unions can order a special 'Repeat after me' RSI day poster from the Hazards Campaign. The massively popular posters, produced by Hazards magazine, say: 'Repeat after me: Too much, too fast, too often is too painful too stand. Repetitive strain injuries. Don't let them repeat the same old mistakes.'
'Repeat after me' poster. Email the Hazards Campaign for poster order details."

Action Mesothelioma Day, 27 February 2008

Action Mesothelioma Day, on 27 February involves local activities nationwide to raise awareness of mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and to campaign for prevention of asbestos exposures today and better treatment and benefits for those affected by past exposures. Join a local event - or if there isn't one, consider organising your own.
Asbestos Forum Action Mesothelioma Day webpage and events listing. LabourNet UK. Action Mesothelioma website.

Above is a lift from TUC E-Risks

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dipsticks against London pollution charging

A Post on Porsche, the German luxury motor manufacturer, which makes cars for rich London Morons. Porsche is trying to take legal action against “our Ken” for introducing a £25 charge on the dipsticks that drive such rubbish as Porsche.

Sign an online petition against Porsche and check out the web sites of Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Labour London Assembly candidates who are all opposed to this Porsche nonsense.

Why does Porsche want to poison Londoners?

Also, why on earth are democratically elected politicians in London putting up with this sort of interference by very rich, unaccountable and historially dubious foreign companies?

(Picture of Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche looking at car model in 1936).

Time to Say Goodbye to Tory Fund Managers Fidelity?

Or is it belated good riddance to bad rubbish? Tom P of Capital & Labour (and his Mrs) has finally had enough of active Conservative Party supporters,Fidelity Investment. Fidelity has donated £435, 500 (£115,000 in 2007 alone) to the Tories in recent years without disclosing the information to their investors.

Tom and his family have had a long term saving plan with Fidelity for many years. Once they found out that the company was giving the Tories huge amounts of money they were very concerned. They tried to contact Fidelity about their over why Fidelity were giving this money to the Tories but felt they were “fobbed off”. So they are leaving Fidelity.

Personally, I think anyone who does not support the Conservative Party should think about doing something similar. This includes pension fund trustees. I’ll hopefully be posting further on this in the near future.

Pic & video of top artists Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli (not Tom & Mrs!)

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Taking a break from “blogging” for a few days. So, apologies if you post any comments and there is no immediate response.

Work Your Proper Hours Day: Friday 22 Feb

Next Friday 22 February 2008 is “Work Your Proper Hours Day”. Click on the TUC website “Worksmart” to take part in a quiz, rate your work place and download posters.

The serious issue is our “long hour’s culture”, work life balance and risk from excessive occupational stress. However, you can send your boss a secret “boss-a-gram” and describe your experiences on a TUC “rant blog”. On the site you can also check you are paying the correct income tax and national insurance rate and work out how much you should pay into your pension. As well as other interesting stuff.

“Work Your Proper Hours Day (22 Feb 2008) is the day when the average person who does unpaid overtime finishes the unpaid days they do every year, and starts earning for themselves. We think that's a day worth celebrating!"

Nearly five million people in the UK regularly do unpaid overtime, giving their employers an average £4,955 of free work a year. If you're one, why not take some time to reflect on how well (or badly) you're balancing your life?

This is one day in the year to make the most of your own time. Take a proper lunch break and leave work on time to enjoy your Friday evening - You deserve it! "

Thursday, February 14, 2008

London UNISON Labour Link Elections 2008

It’s that time of year again. Another week, another Labour movement election. The ballot papers for this year’s UNISON London Labour Link (also know as the APF – the UNISON Labour Party political fund) Committee, Forum and Party conference arrived yesterday. UNISON is constitutionally part of the Labour Party.

Unlike other trade unions UNISON has two separate political funds. One for the Labour Party and the other is the "general" political fund (GPF). UNISON members can choose which fund (or no fund) they pay into.

All London UNISON Labour link branch officers have the vote in this election (and branch secretaries where there is a Labour Link officer vacancy).

Below is the centre left election address and slate which I support. We have a fantastic full range of candidates (apart from me of course!) this year from across the region. Also, we find that there are other good candidates standing who we were not aware of when drawing up the slate. However, I would urge people to support the slate and no-one else. Next year we need to sort things out earlier. (This post is in my personal capacity etc. etc.)


Margaret Back, Louise Couling, Theresa Debono, Florence Portugal, Irene Stacey & Rachel Voller

Bill Beekoo, John Gough, John Gray, Alan Griffiths, Ian Horrigan

We are current members of the Regional Labour Link Committee seeking re-election.

We believe that UNISON’s APF payers’ views are best represented by those who place members’ interests first – above those of extreme political parties and factions.

We must continue to support the links we have with Labour - for all its faults Labour is delivering improvements for our members. We need to do more - we must champion trade union issues, move these further up the political agenda and use our influence in the Labour Party to promote UNISON aims and campaigns.

As active members of UNISON and the Party we are committed to improving communication between members and those elected to represent them, making sure the voice of UNISON members is heard loud & clear.

Labour Link has established a solid record of success and has:

Lobbied London Labour MP’s on key issues such as Pensions, the NHS and cuts in public services.

Been part of the TULO strategy campaigning for the re-election of Ken Livingstone as Mayor and Labour GLA candidates

Continued to work with both Barking & Dagenham in the fight against the far right

Continued to develop links with MP’s Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, Keith Hill and Lyn Brown.

If elected we will carry on the work we have started to

Support the Party but also campaign for or against change where it impacts on our members,

Ensure that Labour Link becomes more visible – within the union and the party,

Ensure our influence goes from strength to strength.

Please also support those of us who are standing for other positions

In the order my ballot papers arrived yesterday. Please “tick” boxes!
























5th. LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE: GENERAL SEAT (1 VOTE – Dark yellow ballot paper)
Choice of two excellent candidates (I understand that Margaret Back has withdrawn? Need to check)






Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SWP: Respect Councillor Joins.... Tories!

Would you “adam and eve it”, One of the Tower Hamlets gang of 4 who split from Galloway’s Jamaati Respect to form SWP/Respect has now defected again and joined the Conservative Party.

Cllr Ahmed Hussain was one of the very few Bengali card carrying “members” of the SWP. Mugs or what?

Poor old Oli (Rahman) – Hat Tip to Ted from East London Advertiser

Why is it that absolutely anything that Galloway touches eventually falls to pieces?

A RESPECT councillor, former ally of George Galloway and member of the Socialist Workers Party has dramatically defected to the Tories in what is being seen a major milestone in Tower Hamlets politics.

Ahmed Hussain, who represents Mile End East at the Town Hall, met the Tories' shadow London minister, Bob Neill, and Tower Hamlets group leader Peter Golds to seal the move this morning (Wednesday).

He becomes the local party's first ever Bengali councillor and in doing so he has made the Tories, who less than two years ago boasted just one councillor in Tower Hamlets, the authority's official opposition with eight members.Mr Neill welcomed the defection as "momentous" and predicted that Tower Hamlets could soon become 'a Tory borough.'"It's a real step forward for the party and the area," he added.

Cllr Hussain, who was also being courted by Labour recently, said he had been interested by Tory Leader David Cameron's approach.He added: "I really believe Tower Hamlets Conservatives will continue to make a difference in this borough."

But political rivals will be dismayed and think Cllr Hussain's reputation will now lie in tatters.The former Labour supporter was one of MP George Galloway's '12 Bengali tigers' elected as a Respect councillor in 2006, and has voted against Conservative motions at the Town Hall since.He was one of four councillors to split from Galloway's Respect faction in October and remained a prominent member of the MP's bitter enemies, the SWP."

Who says politics is boring?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Falling Soldier

Another iconic photograph which may have changed the world in a small way?

This is of an unknown republican militiaman being shot dead in Battle during the Spanish civil war. The picture caused a sensation at the time and drew attention to the republican cause.

The photo is brutal but I think that the fact that the militiaman was dressed in largely civilian clothing but also carrying webbing and a rifle is also unsettling. War is no longer a professional activity.

There has been some debate about the identity of the soldier and even the authenticity of the photo. However it was taken by larger than life war photographer, Robert Capa, whose motto was “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. Capa later took part in the D Day landings in 1944 and eventually paid the price of his motif while in Vietnam during 1954 when he stepped on a landmine and was killed.

In January 2008 thousands of negatives in three suitcases that Capa himself, had thought lost in France, during the Second World War were returned to a family museum.

Hat tip to Col Roi.

Monday, February 11, 2008

First Trade Union Protest on Second Life

I couldn’t make the Newham UNISON rally tonight with Guest speaker, Tony Benn, in support of their sacked branch Chair, Michael Gavan, (I’m laid up and off work with a dodgy Achilles heal). However, I was able to visit the brand new on-line “Union Island” on “Second Life” to listen to an on-line debate on “union busters”.

I had registered for a Second Life account yesterday, but I couldn’t work out how to enter the site. Tonight, I just followed the links from the SLUnions blog; it took me about 15 minutes to work out how to travel inside the site. It was actually quite logical and straight forward, since they had 4 short compulsory training modules. Then I was teleported to” Union Island” (just like in Star Track!).

The Union Island site is very much “under construction”; however you can navigate it quite clearly. Once you get over the overall “weirdness” of Second Life, it’s not that strange and you can see potential positive benefits. While many users did have rather exotic “Second Life” names and choose to be rather imaginative with their profile and dress. On the other hand, you can see how “Second Life” could be (not definitely at this early state) an effective means for trade unionists to be able to communicate across the world.

The conversion tonight on “union busting” (companies who employ consultants to defeat union recognition ballots) and the sharing of experiences between the US AFL-CIO and the CWU was interesting in itself. However, you could also see how union reps who work for multi-national companies could arrange to meet up to discuss common concerns. Also, in the pension capital stewardship field. “Union Island” could be an invaluable resource to enable international union pension fund trustees to meet up very cheaply and work together.

Its early days yet and we should wait and see before being too carried away about the organisational potential of "2nd Life". However, I am really pleased that the trade unions are dipping their toes into the water and being imaginative about the future direction of our movement.

Finally, although tonight, I was unable to attend the Newham rally, I was able to hold a “Second Life” union protest about Michael Gavan’s dismissal (see above). Maybe the first ever? Must see if I can also organise a lobby over any Burmese Military collaborators Total presence in “Second Life”?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tony Benn: Newham Rally on democracy and trade union rights

Newham UNISON Local Government branch is organising a public meeting tomorrow on "democracy and trade union rights".

Tony Benn will be the main speaker. Newham branch Chair, Michael Gavan, who was sacked last year by the council for trade union related activities will also be speaking.

Monday 11 February 2008
@ 7pm St. John's Church Stratford, London E15(nearest tube is Stratford, St Johns Church is located in front of shopping centre, in the middle of the Broadway)
with John McDonnell MP and Michael Gavan plus national speakers from unison & other local unisons for more details,
call Newham UNISON on 020 8555 9351

London Assembly Labour Group Website

Last week a new website was launched on behalf of the existing GLA Labour Assembly members and new candidates for the May 2008 election.

It has background information, links and contact information for all members and candidates. As well as News stories and campaigns.

If you have access to a Labour-associated web site or blog then think about putting a link on it!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Union busting on Second Life?

Received a TUC email alert inviting me to a “Let's talk union busting. Online chat for organisers and activists. Monday 11 February, 6pm-7pm GMT”. It will feature Stewart Acuff, Director of Organising at the AFL-CIO, and Paul Nowak, TUC National Organiser. So far so good.

I then realised this conversation is being hosted on the “new Union Island virtual island in 'Second Life'. Second Life is a social network, represented in 3D computer graphics. Millions of people worldwide (as well as hundreds of organisations and companies) use it to network internationally, holding meetings, events and campaigns. You can find out more about Second Life at

Union Island is a space in this world for trade unions and unionists. A number of international union organisations are working to build a shared collaborative space for union events and networking. You can find out more about Union Island, and get details on how to attend the online chat at The online chat will take place on Union Island in Second Life at 6pm GMT on Monday 11 February.

So far I have avoided “Second life” since I’m still trying to get to grips with blogging (never mind face book). I’ve registered on Union Island blog and set up a free account with Second Life (name is Grayee Naglo) and hopefully I’ll be home in time on Monday to log on and find out more about it and union busting.

UPDATE: forgot about Newham UNISON rally - so looks like I won't be able to make it for 6pm.

Friday, February 08, 2008

East End Poverty Wages for Vulnerable Agency staff

Trade union activists in an East End local authority invited me to interview permanent and agency employees about their comparative terms and conditions.

I have sent this information to UNISON Labour Link, which I hope they can use in their lobbying of the Government over support for the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill on 22 February 2008. Check out the TULO and TUC websites on this key trade union issue. Identities have obviously been changed to protect sources.

I believe that the average London wage is now £45,000 per year?

Permanent Staff:
Worker 1: "Ron”
“Ron” has been directly employed by the local authority for the last 5 years. His grade is on JNC National Terms and conditions including London Weighting. He works 35 hours per week. He is paid Gross £9.92 per hour, £18,051 per year (£347 per week). If Ron is sick he can receive up to 6 months full pay and another 6 months at ½ pay. Ron is a member of the local government pension scheme. His employer also pays the equivalent of 14% of his salary on his behalf into the scheme. Ron has 32 days annual leave per year (not including Bank holidays).

Agency Staff:
Worker 2: “David”“
David” works alongside Ron and carries out exactly the same duties as the other permanent staff. They even wear the same uniform. David works also 35 hours a week. However, he is paid the National Minimum Wage Gross £5.52 per hour, £10, 046 per year (£193.20 per week). He gets no company sick pay, the basic statutory annual leave and no pension. David was born overseas. David sends money back home to his family who are dependant on his earnings. He has worked continually as an agency caretaker for the same local authority in East London for over 4 years. It is hard and difficult work cleaning housing estates. He rents a room in a shared house for £280 per month (£64 per week).

Worker 3: “Trevor”
"Trevor" has worked for the authority for over 3 years. He is on the same terms and conditions as David. Trevor suffers from cancer and has to have regular treatment. If he does not work he does not get paid. So he has to come into work even if he feels unwell or is suffering from the side effects of this treatment. He has to pay £350 per month rent for a room with shared facilities. He has noticed that agency staff can be sacked without notice or for no apparent reason. Also some people have not been paid for work after being told not to come back to a job. Caretaking is a difficult and demanding job; he has come across people taking drugs and been sworn and threatened by them. When he was in hospital due to his illness he did not even receive statutory sick pay.

Conclusion (aka "the bleeding obvious")
Ron gets paid substantially more (£8,005 pa) than his colleagues David and Trevor. He also has a decent pension and paid sick leave if he is ill. He has significantly more annual leave as well as other “big company” benefits.

Ron, David and Trevor have all done exactly the same job for the same “employer” for at least the last 3 years.

How can we tackle poverty in East London unless we make sure that all vulnerable staff are paid a “living wage”?

(Picture is of top Housing East London Caretaker and UNISON member “Rab” who was on NJC terms until he recently changed jobs. His previous employer was not part of this sample)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Eating Fish ‘N’ Chips with Ken to help fight off Boris

Last night I went to a Labour Party fund raising “Meet Ken Livingstone and the Assembly candidates” event at the historic Old Town Hall in Stratford, London. At the balcony of this former “West Ham” town hall, in 1892 election, Keir Hardie the first ever elected “Independent Labour MP”, gave a victory speech to supporters gathered outside.

The main hall was full with about 300 people present. A number of trade unions and local CLP’s had adopted tables. We of course had a UNISON table. Apart from the “Fish ‘N’ Chips” and free pickled unions and wallies (aka as pickled gherkins) we had the usual Labour Party raffle and auction (prizes ranged from such as a free trip to the European parliament via Eurostar to “Tea at the House of Commons Terraces” with Harriet Harman. The mystery prize was a (new!) pair of boxer shots with a design of the London underground system upon them.

Ken’s speech was as usual very good. Apart from being generally engaging, and at times very funny he can also switch very quickly to being serious and sombre (BNP). He gave a 30 minute speech without any notes. I have already heard Ken speak several times this campaign in person and on the TV and he somehow is able to make it different, fresh and thought provoking each time.

This time what impressed me was his obvious personal outrage not only at the prospect of an ignorant right wing toff as the Mayor and a BNP assembly member representing his beloved London. But the chronic shortage of affordable housing in London brought about by 18 years of deliberate and ideologically Tory failure to build new affordable homes to rent for London. The housing problem for London is not immigrants coming into London but the decision to sell off homes and not build new ones.

Many existing Labour Assembly member were there drumming up support. We spoke to top Local City & East AM John Biggs, Leader of the Labour group Len Duvall (UNISON member), Lambeth & Southwark AM Valerie Shawcroft and London wide member Murad Qureshi, (UNISON member of the London Housing Association branch!), Bow East Cllr Alex Heslop (UNISON member) for Bromley and Bexley. Tower Hamlets Council leader, Denise Jones, joined us to eat her Fish ‘N’ Chips, listened to Ken before rushing off to another meeting.

We were able to lobby (pushing a very, very open door) London MEP Claude Moreas over equal rights for agency and temporary workers.

At the end there was a London Music Hall act who by co-incidence sang my favourite song of that era “The Lambeth Walk”.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Their dreams turn to ashes..... London UNISON sees off United Left

This is a quick post on the main Election results of the (Ash Wednesday) London UNISON AGM that took place today.

I was very pleased that I was re-elected as Regional Finance convenor. However, we won all the Regional Council posts with Gloria Hanson being elected Regional Convenor, Conroy Lawrence: Deputy Convenor, Lynn Bentley: Publicity Officer and Gill Brown as Equalities Convenor. Sarah Lewis was re-elected unopposed as Young Person convenor.

Commiserations to all those who lost (sincere this time since I have lost elections in the past and will no doubt lose others in the future). But many, many thanks for all those who voted for us.

We’re find out the result of the other committee elections tomorrow. I’ll post a full report on the AGM as soon as I can (just back from a Labour Party “fish and chips supper” fundraiser for Ken and the GLA elections – so it has been a long day)

Picture of our Guest speaker, UNISON President Norma Stephenson, speaking to AGM, with Sarah and Gloria on the top table.

BTW – yesterday was the first anniversary of my very first posts.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Walthamstow UNISON Labour Link meets Jennette & Stella

Picture is from a successful Walthamstow UNISON Labour Link (APF) mobilisation meeting held last Thursday (31 January 2008) in Walthamstow, East London.

The widely respected local London Assembly member (and this year’s candidate of course) Jennette Arnold was the GLA speaker at the meeting (the one with the thumbs up!).

While local Labour Prospective parliamentary Candidate (and sharp cookie) Stella Creasy (on left) was also a much welcomed speaker and contributor. Stella is writing to all members about their specific concerns while Jennette is inviting female members present to the next Capital Women’s event.

Branch Labour Link officer Alan Griffiths (white shirt) organised the event and I think that it is the Walthamstow UNISON branch secretary, Dave Knight, standing next to him?

I couldn’t make this meeting but I have been at similar UNISON Labour Link meetings at Tower Hamlets and my own London Housing Association Branch. It is good to see UNISON branches rallying behind Labour GLA candidate for the forthcoming elections.

It will be an absolute and utter disaster for all Londoners and especially UNISON members, if the Boris and the Tories win in May. We need to get this message out to our members.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tories say too much money spent on recruiting more Police?

What a bonkers political statement by Tory AM Richard Barnes in the Ealing Times.

THE Mayor of London is putting too much money into extra cops according to Ealing's London Assembly representative.

Richard Barnes, assembly member for Hillingdon and Ealing made the remarks in response to Ken Livingstone's announcement that he will fund an extra 1,000 officers in the next financial year.Mr Livingstone announced this week extra cash would be spent on the Met.He said £59m will fund additional security and counter-terrorism officers, £3.9m will fund officers to tackle specific community issues and £2m will be put into combating gun and gang culture in the city.

But Mr Barnes said he does not think so much money needs to be put into extra policing.He said: "More police in London are always welcome, but I don't think so much money should be spent on them."Better policing could also be achieved by restructuring in the organisation."

Mr Livingstone, said: "I am able to confirm that with this budget London will gain an extra 1,000 uniformed police, a major contribution to making our city safer and more secure."The results of more police on the beat on local streets are there for all to see, crime in London fell for the fifth consecutive year in 2007.""The successes in reducing overall crime levels must be extended to tackle the toughest problems like youth gun and knife crime, by providing the police with the resources they need and by investing in our young people through a massive injection of support for youth provision."

Ken Livingstone has responded:

‘This is an amazing statement, totally contradicting what most Londoners think about the need to fund our police service properly.

‘I give an absolute commitment that I will not cut the financial support to our police officers and the Tories in London should be ashamed for calling for this cut. Time and time again in London we have seen the consequences of cuts to our public services and we cannot afford to go back to ill-judged cuts which damage London in the long time.’

Richard Barnes AM - What a plonker?

Merry Shove Tuesday Mr Lawrence

(If you are not interested in the internal political machinations of the trade union UNISON in London then please ignore this post.)

Well, actually it should have been titled “We are not Trots Mr Lawrence (honest gov)”.

Picture (left) of Conroy and current acting convenor Gloria!

Things are hot-ing up a little for the London UNISON regional Council AGM on Wednesday (see email below sent to various London UNISON branches today). Malcolm “methinks thou dost protest too much” Campbell has had a “dig” at top UNISON Health steward (hospital electrician) Conroy Lawrence, who actually did not know who exactly would be part of the SWP/United left slate when he put in his nomination (except of course that there would be one).

It is interesting to note that apparently Mandy has now “left” the SWP after 20 odd years of membership and that none of the other candidates are members of Trotsky Entryist Labour Party factions. Well, that’s all right then. I thought *** was never a member of United Left? and that of course the wonderful Katrina has been taken over by UL Zombie body snatchers.

Has anyone in disunited left ever heard the saying “I joined the Labour party to help change the world, not to change the minutes of the previous meeting”? What on earth is Malcolm going on about? I assume that I was at the same meetings and do not recognise what on earth he is actually making a complaint about. I thought I was a total anorak?

Whatever the result it should be a fun packed AGM. I will let you know what went on.

From: Malcolm Campbell Sent: 04 February 2008 08:55Subject: URGENT - Regional Council AGM
Please forward this to your Regional Council delegates and ask them to read it carefully.

I'm writing to urge you to vote for the following people in the election of Regional Council Officers this Wednesday:

Convenor: Mandy Berger
Deputy Convenor: Malcolm Campbell
Finance Convenor: Heenal Rajani
Publicity Officer: Katrina Hoogendam
Equalities Convenor: *** ****

In his election address, Conroy Lawrence (who is standing against me for Deputy Convenor) talks about the Region being "captured by those who take their policies from extreme parties and who are answerable to their political masters and not UNISON's members". He is clearly suggesting that this describes those of us standing against him and his running mates. This is completely untrue.

I'm a member of the Labour Party and have never been a member of any other political party. Heenal, Katrina and *** are also members of the Labour Party, and Mandy is not a member of any party.

The idea that we won't be answerable to the membership is misleading in the extreme. We're standing on a platform of democracy and accountability, because we believe that the leadership of the Region for the last two years hasn't been allowing the views of the membership to be considered. Debate has been stifled.

Examples of this are:

An inquorate Regional Council meeting where debate was quite rightly allowed regarding the fight against fascism, but we weren't allowed to discuss the Pensions Dispute, which was at a crucial stage
Not allowing the Regional Committee to vote on a proposal for a Regional rally on a strike day, when other regions were holding them.
A consultation exercise regarding the establishing of a Regional Standing Orders Committee which only outlined two alternatives, and not a third which had been proposed involving a directly elected SOC
Introducing an SOC comprised of the Regional Council Officers, without the agreement of either the Regional Council or the Regional Committee
Not allowing a proper debate regarding motions submitted to Regional Council which had been ruled out of order (this was at a meeting of the Regional Committee curtailed after only 10 minutes of the allotted 45, when the Acting Regional Convenor and the Regional Secretary left the room despite there still being a number of people indicating that they wanted to speak!)
Not allowing a vote at the last Regional Committee on a perfectly valid proposal to commit the Region in principle to a joint union meeting in the future over Public Sector pay
This list isn't exhaustive and demonstrates that the way the Region is currently being run just isn't good enough.


CheersMalcolm Campbell

UPDATE: I have been asked by someone mentioned on this post to remove their name. I have done so. grayee

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Barack Obama - Yes We Can

Earlier on today I had yet another rather dispiriting exchange with a BNP supporter on my blog over Ken Livingstone and the London GLA elections. Is it politically incorrect to call people morons nowadays?

Tonight, while checking out my daily “bloggers4labour” digest, I came across the Tom Watson MP link to “Yes We Can - Barack Obama Music video”. Tom calls it “powerful” stuff. I agree. Barack really has got something. He is very, very good. I’m not naturally that keen on inspirational “Kennedy” type figures. However, maybe I am just a little too cynical?

Anyway, good luck to the US Democratic Party candidates. Either way there will be UNISON members who will be giving up their holidays and flying across the pond to help out in the actual Presidential elections.

I know I shouldn’t but if Ken decides to retire (God forbid of course) as Mayor in 2012, I just hope we have an inspirational Black Labour candidate whose parents were originally immigrants to London. The prospect of winding up BNP supporters with such a candidate is just too good to miss.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The blog from the trenches

A link to the fascinating First World War blog by the grandson of Private Harry Lamin.

“This blog is made up of transcripts of Harry Lamin's letters from the first World War The letters will be posted exactly 90 years after they were written. To find out Harry's fate, follow the blog!”

The latest post includes a link to a petition that there should be a national bank holiday each year to remember those who have died in the service of our country.

This site makes me remember my own Taid (grandfather) who won the MC while serving in the Royal Naval Division in 1917. This is still to my family, after all these years, an incredibly important episode and matter of family pride.

I will post on Captain Frederick John Matthews’ somewhat colourful, military history (he was an officer in the Royal Naval Division, a RSM in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and a Warrant officer in the RAF) at another time.

Friday, February 01, 2008

An image that changed the World?

Today is the 40th anniversary of this infamous murder of a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon by South Vietnam Police Chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan.

I can remember being shocked as a kid the first time I saw this photo (and the video). Over the years I think we have become somewhat insensitive by repeated media images of man’s inhumanity to man. However, this picture is credited with changing the World’s (and American public opinion) attitude to the Vietnam War.

Conversely I wonder if this picture would be widely publicised nowadays or would it be self censured as too violent or intrusive?

Before we get too smug about things – let’s not forget these recent public murders in our European idyll

Thanks to Colonel Roi for reminding us all

Tories want £4 million cut to London Police & Fire Brigade

"Tories on the London Assembly have announced they would cut £4 million from London's Fire Service to save tax payers just 14p a week.

Their proposals leave most of the Mayor's budget in tact and show there is only one party setting the agenda for London.

John Biggs, Labour's Assembly budget spokesman, said, "For the last four years City Hall has been full of Tory hot air as they huff and puff about our 'over-spending, wasteful Mayor'. So why have they accepted 90% of his budget? Where are their fresh policies for the future of London? Their proposal for a £4 million cut to London's Fire Service will put Londoners - especially older Londoners - at risk for the sake of saving them 14p."

"There will be a clear choice for Londoners in May: continuing investment in public transport, police and the fire service alongside free travel for the young, disabled and elderly, more affordable housing and action on climate change OR a 14p weekly council tax saving, cuts to our emergency services and not a single new policy to speak of."

After eight years in opposition, London's voters will expect more than the same old tired promises on tax. The Conservatives have shown they have neither the the ability nor the imagination to run our city.

"Commenting on the Tories' proposal to cut community and home safety fire services - relied on by the elderly and those on low incomes Assembly Member Val Shawcross, who chairs London's Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) said, "Be in no doubt, the cuts proposed by the Conservatives would put Londoners at risk. At a time when the Authority's budget is already stretched, the Tories want to impose cuts. The Authority has already voted against their dangerous proposals."

"The Conservative amendment to the Mayor's budget proposes a £10 million cut in the grant provided to the Met by the GLA for additional officers and equipment and almost £4 million from the Fire Authority's budget)

(press release from GLA Labour group.)

Training doesn’t take the strain

“Training” is the holy grail of health & safety. Many managers (and practically all consultants) stock response to any safety issue or concern is to propose sending workers on a “training course”. While training is usually really important in ensuring that there is an effective safety management system in an organisation, it is not the answer to all risks.

For example there is an excellent press release from the TUC today on research from the British Medical Journal that just training employees on the correct way to lift heavy weights doesn’t necessary result in fewer injuries. Rather you should be concentrating on reducing the weight of things that need to be lifted manually. I know that trade union Unite are campaigning to cut the maximum weight of baggage to 23k from current limit of 32K (see photo with Labour Minister Paul Goggins).

Equally it is useless just to send front line housing staff to “dealing with aggressive clients” courses when you don’t have a proper system in place of identifying and assessing potential violent clients. Instead you must make sure that workers are not simply sent out to make lone visits to residents unaware that they are potentially violent.

Disorganised Left Machinations?

A number of true comrades have fw me this interesting exchange from the “disUnited Left” (SWP et al) about their plotting and conniving for next weeks London UNISON AGM. I trust everyone did what they were told?

Sent: 30 January 2008 21:39

Subject: Re: Regional AGM

Speaking personally I have to agree that it is important that the left maximises our position on the Regional Committee. Over the past two years, although the office has won most of the Regional Council Officer positions we have managed to hold a working majority at most Regional Committee meetings.

Although we have been able to do no more than prevent the office having any mandate for their machinations I am sure that it would have been - and would be - far worse if we had not had this working majority. Whether we win or lose the Regional Convenor and other positions it is important that we do as well as possible in the elections for the Regional Committee.

We are in a poor position already in that - for various reasons - we have not nominated enough candidates for the women's seats. Therefore if we can hold four out of six of the general seats we must. Given the reality of STV we could not possibly hold five out of six.

The office will have issued detailed instructions to "their" delegates on how to vote and use their preferences to maximise their position. They are standing four candidates as that is the maximum they could realistically win by the most effective use of first preferences. If we run five left wing candidates for the six general seats the distribution of first preferences will probably mean that we win two or at most three seats, whereas if we run four candidates we are more likely to win three or even four candidates.

It is unfortunate that this year we have been insufficiently organised and are left having to try to arrive at decisions at the last minute. However, XXX is entirely right about yesterday's decision and that decision was also correct.

The candidate who is withdrawing will need to notify the office of course.

Best wishes Jon Rogers

----- Original Message ---- From: XXX
Sent: Wednesday, 30 January, 2008 7:53:43 PM

Subject: Regional AGM

The campaign meeting last night discussed the general regional committee seats (again!)
The position is that it is going to be extremely hard to keep the 4 incumbent seats we have but obviously we should give it a go and try our hardest.

If we stand 5 candidates for the 6 general seats and the rightwing are standing 4 we will be splitting our votes and won't have any chance of retaining 4 seats - and more than that we may not even get 3 people elected.

The meeting last night agreed that the united left should only stand 4 candidates which I'm afraid means one of you withdrawing.

The meeting decided its preference would be for the 4th candidate for a balance between service groups.

Can you get back to me asap please as the region need to be told tomorrow in order to stop the ballot papers being printed with all 5 names.
Thanks XXX xx