Monday, June 30, 2008

Jean Geldart’s leaving Do

On Friday evening, I went to 18th Century former docker’s pub “The Gun” for Jean’s leaving Do.

Jean is retiring after 37 years service with Tower Hamlets Council and the union, as I have already mentioned in the UNISON conference reports (here, here and after her surprise 60th birthday party here).

The Do was packed with branch, regional and retired UNISON members as well as national officers. A good time was had by all.

The branch published a four page mock newsletter. This is the irreverent front cover (right).

I’ll post on my "UNISON Enema" story (page 3) another time.

Housing Associations are “Public Bodies”

Many housing associations appear to be in shock after a High Court ruling that their tenants can now take their landlords to a Judicial Review in a similar way as local authority tenants.

Inside Housing this week has headlines such as “Ruling threatens HA independence” and “Landlords teeter on brink..” while the normally sensible editor, Kate Murray, has an article titled “Freedom fighters face new threat”?

I am not sure that this is actually the end of the world, as we now know it. No doubt if possible, there will be some sort of appeal and maybe a clause or two in the Housing and Regeneration Bill could change things. However, very significant sums of public money are spent by housing associations on services, so having the possible brake of a judicial review, from time to time, should not be dismissed with so much “doom and gloom”.

Liberty legal officer is quoted in as saying "The public will be delighted to see that human rights aren't just for criminal suspects but for everyone." Which I think is equally OTT.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

By- Election fight in Barking & Dagenham

Picture is of Labour Party activists from across London and Essex, meeting up yesterday to begin campaigning in Chadwell Heath Ward for Labour.

The ward had three Labour Councillors, one of whom has resigned for personal reasons. The vote will take place on Thursday. In the last election, the Tories had come a close 4th, but the BNP, flushed by their success elsewhere in the borough are now running a strong campaign.

Apologies for anyone I don’t personally know but in the picture is West Ham CLP, John Saunders, top Labour blogger Rupa Huq (and UNISON member), agent and Party regional officer (and Hackney Councillor) Rob Chapman and Sam. The excellent candidate, Margaret Mullane, is actually behind John, busy organising things.

Despite the “problems” the Party has at the moment, the turnout was pretty impressive for a ward by-election. As we left members from even as far away as Lambeth turned up. I understand that 35 members from outside Barking & Dagenham turned up to help out that day. As well as a good turn out from “Hope not Hate” in their bright yellow tee-shirts, handing out anti-fascist leaflets.

Many, many moons ago I use to work in Chadwell Heath. It is somewhere I have fond memories of. We worked Marks Gate part of the ward, which I do not know, most of which is a purpose built former London County Council (LCC) Estate. I thought that the estate was in quite good shape and looked after. There is open countryside around most of the estate.

The Labour voter ID was good – up-to-date and accurate. While, I am always somewhat skeptical about canvass returns I thought that we had a good reception. Even the “against” were quite polite, which makes a change when the BNP are in the running. There were lots of Tory leafleters running about. I did not see any of them actually knocking and speaking to people, which is possibly significant. We’re wait and see. I will try to fit in an evening before Thursday.

If you can help out - check out this post for details.

Of course, political campaigning is all hard work and no fun. You are out pounding the streets, knocking on doors, filling out your canvass sheets and generally fighting the good fight. It was purely in the interests of supporting a local mobile business therefore that our team stopped off for an ice cream - of course (with Barking and Dagenham Council GMB conveners, Sharon and Lewis).

Update: We lost but BNP kept out!

Terry Justice Conservative Party. Votes cast = 842. Elected
Dorien McIlroy Independent. Votes cast = 11
Margaret Mullane Labour Party. Votes cast = 691
Kerry Smith UK Independence Party. Votes cast = 142
James Webb British National Party. Votes cast = 564
Turnout was 33.15% Check Rupa post.

Tackling Climate Change

The second guest speaker at GC was the Labour MP for Llanelli, Nia Griffiths, on the very topical subject of “Energy policy”. Nia is the PPS to Phil Woolas, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Nia pointed out the huge challenge that the government has to face. It has agreed to reduce present day emissions by 60% in 2050 when at the same time it is estimated that unless something is done there will be a 130% rise in C02 by 2050.

Internationally, despite being a very dirty fuel “Coal is still King” and is likely to be so for the next 20-25 years. So there will have to more work on Carbon, Capture and Storage (CCS). This is where the carbon waste from burning fossil fuels is stopped from being released into the environment and stored. The new Energy bill is split into four main parts – CCS, Nuclear waste, Renewable Obligations Certificates (ROC) which will see a shift of emphasis away from wind to other renewables and finally Gas infrastructure.

Nia said that the emotive subject of Bio-fuels is complicated. There is good and bad issues. It is the sustainability of sources that is key. Using waste wood that would otherwise be dumped to burn alongside coal in power stations is one thing. While displacing food crops is wrong and a serious moral issue.

She also pointed out that the public subsidies (up to 50%) for solar panels and wind turbines are being exploited by the “better off”. Those who suffer most from fuel poverty have little or no chance of putting up solar panels on their roof.

Since the collapse of high energy prices in the early 1980’s there had been a lack of interest in alternative energy, which has only now ended with the new hikes in prices. There has been decades of research to make up for as well as the massive underinvestment in power stations by the privatised utilities.

At the end, there was a question about Nuclear energy. Nia said that the decision has to be taken by the electric companies whether or not to bid to build nuclear power stations. The government had made it clear that for the first time these bids would have to include the cost of dealing with waste and dismantling the stations at the end of their working lives. They may well decide not to bid. In Sweden, where they are embarking on a nuclear programme, the new power station they are building has run into serious problems with delays and cost overruns.

After Nia, we even had a Parliamentary report from our local MP, Lyn Brown.

Assembly Life under Boris

At Wednesday West Ham Labour Party GC, we had two guest speakers. First, was the newly re-elected London Assembly member for City & East, John “Bruiser” Biggs.

This is strictly my interpretation of his remarks and that of his newsletter, which he distributed.

John started by thanking all of us (and the Scottish organisers) for helping to nearly double his majority in the recent election. Something not many other Labour candidates elsewhere in the country experienced on the day I suppose?

What to do with Boris? John thinks Boris may be a “funny fellow”, who has “massive self belief” and a “supreme self confidence”. But he is a traditional right wing "hanger and flogger" Tory who is enjoying his media “honeymoon” and hasn’t quite made up his mind whether to continue to pretend to be a “New Cameron Tory” or return to his roots as a Nasty Party tax cutter.

Boris is far more ruthless than Ken Livingston ever was, as seen by his near instant dismissal of James McGrath the new aide who made a seemingly racist remark and Ken’s desperate loyalty to Lee Jasper. Ken himself is still showing an interest in London politics and has turned up to nearly every Assembly meeting.

John thinks that the Assembly needs to justify its existence by scrutinising Boris effectively. He told us that many years ago, Jack Straw MP, told him that the role of opposition is coming up to a brick wall, finding one loose brick, wriggle and worry it loose, pull it out and then find another. Boris is now full of himself and making promises to everyone, he cannot hope to keep. As well as this, Boris is busy delegating everything he can to his appointees.

The anti-racist Rise festival is under threat as Boris’s new advisor on race, Munira Mirza, (who it appears is a member of a group aligned to the now defunct Revolutionary Communist Party) is trying to ban campaign groups from the festival, which has resulted in UNISON and other unions withdrawing £100k of sponsorship. When interviewed about this Boris claimed to have no knowledge of the decision.

It will be interesting to see what side Boris will jump on when the decision about the need for a new Thames crossing comes up again. East London needs a new bridge and there is a £300 million grant available from the government. But Tory Bexley, who gave him loads of votes is very strongly opposed.

With regard to the BNP, he posed this misquotation that we should be “tough on the BNP and thoughtful on the causes of the BNP”. The Labour Party needs to fight the racism of the BNP and to reach out to white working class voters, many with low skills, who feel left out by change.

John finished off by warning that Boris will have to make cuts in order to pay for his promises and that what Boris wants is to be loved by all Londoners and then to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

God help us all.....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Labour's Sports Dinner: Celebrating the future of sport

I’m not really into organised sports, but the Labour Sports Dinner and prizes looks interesting for those that are. There is a Trip to Robben Island, Nelson Mandela’s book, VIP to the next Joe Calzaghes big fight, with even a pair of signed boxing gloves! Lunch with Sir Alex Ferguson (a football manager bloke), Mr Rude, in fact, Mr Extraordinary rude (aka Alastair Campbell) will include you in his future book (there is an offer you cannot refuse), table tennis coaching with Matthew Syed; a day with “dickie” Bird; A tennis match with “Our Tone”; A swim with “Little Britain” star, David Walliams.

So get your bids in so - “nice Mr. Brown will stop Mr. Shallow from the Nasty Tory Party from getting into power”. Nuf said?

Last year's sports celebration dinner at Wembley Stadium was the most successful fundraiser in Labour's history. We raised a fantastic amount of money that continues to make a big difference up and down the country. The live auction was at the heart of this success with so many people playing their part by bidding for the unique lots on offer.On Thursday July 10, to help raise funds for Labour's campaign to fight and win the next General Election, we are having a second sports celebration dinner at Wembley. And, we're offering you the chance to bid for many exclusive items. To bid visit”

Work related Stress, Bullying and Harassment

On Monday we had our regional health & safety committee. We held committee elections (I am now the London rep to National Health & Safety committee), discussed the usual minutes, matters arising, then reports, budget, conference fringe (new “Violence at Work” booklet), issues regarding the HSE, Hazards conference, Workers Memorial Day, European health & safety week and why no national safety seminar this year.

Afterwards we had a Network meeting of London branch safety officers with guest speaker, Henrietta Phillips (pictured with Chair, all round nice bloke, John Caulfield), who is a personal injury specialist from trade union solicitors, Thompsons.

Henrietta started off by pointing out how prevalent work related stress was – 1/3rd of all new incidences of ill health, average of 30.2 working days per year and a total of 13.8 million days were lost last year. Despite being so widespread it is notoriously difficult to get compensation, but not impossible.

Being off sick with "stress" is not enough by itself; you have to have a clinically recognised psychological or psychiatric condition (diagnosed by a psychiatrist). You have to be able to prove “causation of injury” and that your illness is linked to work. Solicitors acting for the employers will have access to your medical records and will try to prove that your illness is non-work related e.g. marital or financial problems. There are also strict time limits. You must usually commence court proceedings within 3 years.

Proving negligence or a clear breach of duty is not enough, you also need to show clear evidence that the employer should have foreseen the risk of psychiatric injury to the individual from work. So – tell your employer if you are suffering or are otherwise vulnerable. In the real world of work, its not that easy. Maybe better still, get a GP or a mental health professional to tell your employer you are vulnerable. Hopefully this will get their alarm bells ringing.

At one stage, it looked like the "Protection from Harassment Act" could be used to gain compensation from employers who failed to take adequate steps to stop their employees bullying and threatening other staff. An unhelpful Court appeal means at the moment (unless it is overturned) that action can only be successful if the harassment is extremely physically violent.

One positive thing is that the courts have somewhat overturned a previous ruling that if an employer offers a confidential advice service that they can refer employees to then they are “unlikely to be found in breach of duty”. I remember several years ago being shocked by a senior manager boasting how his organisation would never be sued because they offered a telephone help line.

I think trade unionists need to send a message that you cannot rely on the law to remedy your employment problems. People genuinely have the wrong impression of how easy it is “to go to law”. The tabloid press gives the impression that you can get huge pay outs if your boss forgot to say good morning to you. This is rubbish. The best way to protect yourself at work is via a well-organised trade union to challenge employment practices that make people ill in the first place.

Maybe also we ought to consider a “no fault” compensation scheme for workers who become seriously ill thorough work without having to prove employer negligence. It may put quite a few highly paid lawyers out of business. I think that Thompsons will be one of the few that won’t mind.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Help Labour Fight the BNP in Dagenham and Rainham

Quick plug to appeal for help in these important London by-elections. Activists from Newham TULO agreed after tonight’s (excellent – see future posts on our 3 speakers) West Ham GC to help out. We’re going down this weekend and hopefully other nights next week. All London Labour members and anti-fascists - please pass the word about.

"There are two council by-elections in Dagenham & Rainham Constituency on 3 July. Labour currently has other sitting councillors in both these wards but we face a strong threat from the BNP and the Tories. We have excellent candidates in Graham Carr and Margaret Mullane.

There are a number of ways members can help them:

Canvassing & Leafleting until election day

South Hornchurch Ward:Mon to Fri 12pm -2pm, or 6.30pm. Meet at 10 Royal Parade, Church St, Dagenham, Essex, RM10 9XB. Saturday and Sunday at 10am. Meet in the public car park opposite the Cherry Tree pub, Rainham Rd, RM13 7QX

Chadwell Heath Ward:Monday to Thursday 6.30pm and Saturdays at 12pm. From the Car Park rear of Marks Gate Community Centre, Rose Lane, Chadwell Heath, Essex RM6 5NJ.For leafleting please contact Liam Smith 07961 727321

On Election Day 3rd July: All day from day from 10 Royal Parade, Church St, Dagenham, Essex, RM10 9XB.Nearest Tube: Dagenham Heathway. Alternatively, telephoning from Central London, 39 Victoria St from 4pm (ring for details).

Ring Liam 07961 727321 or Rob 07892 407615 or email rob_chapmanatnewdotlabourdotorgdotuk if you are able to give some time for the arranged activities, or if you are available at other times.

Please come and help if you can!

Ken Clark
London Labour Party-Regional Director"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ricky Gervais - “The Real Disaster In Burma”.

I received this email and YouTube link today from Burma Campaign……

Dear Friend,
We have just launched a major new campaign video featuring top UK comic Ricky Gervais. The powerful video is called “The Real Disaster In Burma”. 

Over the last nine months millions of people around the world have realised just how brutal and ruthless the Burmese regime is. They have realised that the regime will stop at nothing to stay in power – they’ll shoot peaceful protestors, they’ll even leave storm victims to die.

We want the world to realise the real disaster in Burma is the government.

Please watch it online and forward the message below to anyone who you think will support our work. You can see it here:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Friday: UNISON Conference – last day

I have already reported on the main bun fight of the week, the debate on motion 63, so I’ll just quickly fill in the rest of Friday. Firstly, we had Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality & Human Rights commission as guest speaker. I have never seen Trevor make a speech before and I thought he was very good. He is determined to take the government on over 42 days detention.

Next was composite G on “Gun and Knife Crime”. Deputy London convenor, Conroy Lawrence, spoke very movingly about the death of his stepson, Justin, who was shot in South London during 2004. The death devastated the whole family. Yet it also turned them into local campaigners against gun crime and first hand practical supporters of families who have suffered in a similar way since.

Public sector Pension funds and a “Responsible Contractor Investment Policy (see previous post) was passed. Then big debate on organising, basic state pension, lunch, European Union Treaty (very anti) then motion 63.

The closing session is a “thank you and goodbye” to the President for her year of office, with plenty of embarrassing photos of the President when she was younger, displayed on the very large screens.

So – until next year in Brighton.

(Picture is of a bottle of Unison red wine that I won in a competition in the UNIZONE at the Migrant Workers stall. I failed the sample exam paper from the British government “Citizen test” quite spectacularly).

Motion 20: Public Sector Pension Funds – Responsible Contractor Investment Policy

This is another recycled speech that I was not able to give on Friday. I thought this was a really important motion. Obviously other people didn’t since after only one speaker from the hall, a “point of order that the question be put” was moved. Norma did say “sorry John”!

(Picture right is of the early UNISON London region pension reps - looking after their members money).

"President, Conference – John Gray, Housing Association branch, London region speaking in favour of motion 20.

Conference, I hope to add my bit on why I think good governance practices in the public sector pension funds (also known as capital stewardship) should be used to help protect and defend our members and our public services.

UNISON members up and down the country pay into the funded public sector pension funds. My own relatively small pension scheme with Tower Hamlets Council on which I have been the UNISON rep for some 12 years has £600 million of investments. It is always worth repeating that these investments belong to us. They are the direct result of contributions by workers and employers that our taken out of our pay.

But of course, what many members do not realise is that these pension schemes not only invest our money in big businesses, home and abroad, but also they invest in companies that now employ other UNISON members.

Not only in hospital and school PFI schemes but also they own shares directly in the many companies and contractors that now run privatised public services. My own pension scheme owns shares in nearly the usual suspects.

So what this means Conference, is that Tower Hamlet UNISON members are the part owners of companies that make profits from cutting the wages and conditions of another set of UNISON members.

We own companies that employ highly paid solicitors to find ways of breaking TUPE contracts, or as we heard in detail about yesterday, refuse to comply with the code on a two-tier workforce, they even refuse to recognise trade unions. They also try to duck out of any responsibly for the equality duties legislation.
Conference, I think it is important to avoid any doubt that it is a given that we are opposed as a union to privatisation and PFI. Also that regardless of any action we take over our pensions and our ownership of these companies that profiteer from public services it can never totally replace our campaigning against the privatisation.

However, what we have now is an opportunity to support those UNISON members who work for these companies firstly drawing up a “Responsible Contractor Policy” and then campaign to make all public sector pension schemes adopt and in force it. Not only would this support our members who are being treated appallingly, but also if we are able to ensure that public sector contractors and subcontractors pay fair wages and benefits then I would expect more contracts to return back to in house since contractors only make money in public services by cutting staff terms and conditions.

Conference, I have been a member of the UNISON working group on Capital Stewardship. Where we have discussed how the good governance of our pension money can best serve all our members. This policy is a great example of what we can and should be doing with our pension investments.

Finally conference, This policy will not be a panacea for all our problems but as trade unionists we need to use all the weapons in our armoury to protect our members and this it is an opportunity not to be missed.

Conference – please support this motion"

“Tackling Violence & Aggression at Work”

During conference lunch break on the Thursday, there was the official health & safety fringe. The extremely well attended meeting was chaired by Nick Green, who is the chair of UNISON lay health & safety committee. There were two speakers, Robert Baughan (left), national UNISON officer and David Tucker QC (right), a criminal barrister with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Robert used the occasion to launch the new UNISON guide on tackling work related violence called “Its Not Part of the Job”. This booklet is a step by step guide for safety reps on how to deal with this major occupational hazard. The emphasis is on getting the issue recognised, developing a policy and PREVENTION. There are some pretty useful case studies across the public sector to refer to. One thing that set me thinking is that Robert made a convincing case for any sick leave resulting from violence should be treated different under the company sickness absence policy? I have never argued this before.

David Tucker is not what you imagine a typical senior government barrister to be. He started off with a joke about a suspect who was being interviewed by Police and asked “had you stolen these pigs?” “No, they are Kosher” he replied (allegedly). The jokes didn’t get that better, but I did enjoy his introduction to the audience of the CPS complaints procedure booklet, which he dramatically threw over his shoulder to the back of the hall saying “you don’t need that do you”.

More seriously he explained in detail the “points to prove” if the CPS are to successfully prosecute someone for assaulting a hospital worker or other anyone else at work. There is a new offence of “causing a nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises” (section 119-121) which frankly had so many separate points to prove that he thought it unlikely that it would be used that often. But is does include a power to remove someone who is causing a nuisance or disturbance by approved and trained staff.

Often assailants who have mental health problems are not prosecuted because Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone must “understand” what is happening to them if they are to be charged. There is no general immunity for those with mental health issues. David did think that some sort of action is necessary in these circumstances, not least to set “boundaries” for patients or clients.

The CPS does not operate a “zero tolerance” policy; rather they “evaluate the need to prosecute”. Which is actually at odds with the new UNISON guide which states that our members expect a “zero tolerance” approach (page 5)?

At the rather rushed Q&A at the end, David had a very hard time from a Police civilian station officer (UNISON organises amongst Police civilian staff outside London) who was desperately upset and angry with the whole criminal justice system, which she believes does not protect workers or properly punishes violent criminals. I did manage to ask him a question about whether organisations which obstruct or even prevents staff that has been assaulted from reporting these crimes to the Police, should be prosecuted themselves? But I don’t think he had time to answer it.

It was really nice to see UNSION National Health & Safety officer, Hope Daily at the fringe. Quite a few years ago now, both of us completed the year long TUC Certificate in Occupational Health & Safety with the WEA. On the course was also a fellow “Buckley mug” and mustard keen GMB safety rep, Idwal, who was an ex-RSM with the Welsh Guards, a Falklands veteran and a serving Beefeater at the Tower of London! Not your average trade union safety rep!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thursday: UNISON NDC – Amendments to Rule

Thursday morning is usually international time. Our first speaker was James Clancy, President of the Canadian trade union, National Union of Public and General Employees.

James is a superb public speaker who really grabbed the attention of Conference. Next we had motions on Palestine, Columbia, South Africa and Burma.

At lunch I went to the Health & Safety fringe (see next post).

In the afternoon, we debated union rule changes. I had thought things would be quite quiet this year, but the rule change to reduce the waiting period from 13 to 4 weeks for full representation was fiercely debated. I think that we have to recognise that times have changed and that many new employees do not understand the importance of joining a union as soon as they start work. So imposing a 3 month waiting period for membership is not helpful for organising.

Many speakers felt that it is important to have a long qualification period to stop people only joining the union when they get into trouble. While I am broadly sympathetic with this view I think that if you do not have an effective union organisation in the company then it is very harsh to refuse representation to anyone unless you can demonstrate that this person has been actually asked to join the union but refused.

Limited local representation for employees who have not refused membership is the way that we resolve this issue in our Group. This amendment "fell" again (not passed) anyway.

In the afternoon there was also the big debate on “Democracy in UNISON”.

UPDATE: Stand corrected, James has pointed out - the rule change was actually passed!

Civil Liberties – London Region NDC Fringe

There was a very good London regional fringe on the Wednesday evening on Civil Liberties. It was chaired by London Deputy Convenor, Conroy Lawrence. We had Tony Bunion (left) from “Statewatch” talking about CCTV cameras, passenger name records, finger printing for passports (from age 6?) and the EU aim of having one ID card for all purposes – access to the library, doctor, hospital and social security.

The second speaker was Ellie Reeves (right) from Thompson Solicitors. Ellie is an employment law expert. She criticised David Davis’ recent stance on civil liberties when he was totally silent on the surveillance and restrictions of striking minor in the 1980’s. Ellie was also involved in the Gate Gourmet dispute, were many members were low paid women, who often had English as a second language. During that dispute they were sacked with a megaphone for attending a union meeting. Ellie pointed out how weak the law is on with regard to convert surveillance of workers in dispute with their employer or insurance companies.

I asked her a question about employers who try to stop back office staff having an alcoholic drink in their lunchtime. Which she said would depend on the nature of the work and the contract of employment. Another person asked whether compulsory staff uniforms were legal? Ellie said it could well be deemed a “reasonable instruction” by an employer.

By co-incidence, Ellie is also a Labour Party NEC member and when I came home there was an email from a member in Tower Hamlets who have nominated her to stand again for the NEC. Ballot papers out next week. I must try and post on these important elections.

The London region social took place that night in the same hotel. A good time was had by all.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Motion 35: Affordable Housing

(Many delegatges thought that we would not need to prioritse the housing motions since they would be be debated before Friday afternoon. As it later turned out, this did not happen, so no housing motions were debated at NDC this year. Which is a shame, but such is life. Anyway, this is the speech I would given if I could).

President, Conference – John Gray; Housing Association Branch; Greater London Region speaking in favour of motion 35 and amendments.

Conference, I am sure that all of us welcome the Labour government’s commitment to increase the supply of new socially rented and low cost ownership homes.

I would like to pick up on 2 of the points made in the motion. The first is number 2, which is the call for a “clear definition of affordability”. I think this is a vital starting point.

While most people have some idea about what “Social housing” means, the term “affordable housing” is pretty meaningless. What is affordable” mean? and who is it meant to such housing? Does it refer to what someone who is on the salary of a NHS trust director or is it what a hospital cleaner is able to afford?

Recently there has been a lot of negative publicity about the high incomes that you need to have to be eligible for access to so-called “affordable” homes. Now, there are some excellent new housing schemes targeted at the genuinely low paid, however there was one “shared ownership” scheme in London recently you needed an income of £45k per year to be eligible. Which is of course ridiculous!

If we are serious about addressing the housing affordability crisis in this country then we must start off with a definition. In my view this definition would enable decent good quality affordable homes, rented or otherwise to be within the reach of all.

Secondly; point 6 touches on supporting members and organising in the housing sector. In my branches experience many housing associations (not all) do not practice what they preach when it comes to their own staff, especially with regard to equality.

TUPE protection needs to extended and we need powers to get rid once and for all of the 2-tier workforce.

With regard to recruitment, the National Housing Federation, estimate that there are 150,000 people employed in housing associations across the UK. I understand that we have as few as 20,000 members. The T&G Unite have maybe 10,000 members.

So there is possibly an overall trade union density level of only 20% so potentially there is a huge organising opportunity for UNISON. We have a similar ratio of stewards to members as other parts of the union. So one way forward is to ensure that existing reps are given the facilities and means to organise and recruit.

Conference, please support this motion.

Wednesday: UNISON NDC “Show Racism the Red Card”.

...and "Happy 60th Birthday NHS".

Once again, apologies for not posting sooner. The 2nd day of the conference started with a Closed/Private session on “Funding the Equal Pay challenge”. I spoke during the session but assume since it was “closed” for members only I suppose I’d better not report on it.

After this our guest speaker was the footballer, Leory Rosenior, who spoke for the Presidents choice of charity “Show Racism the Red Card”, which campaigns against racism in football and society. He is a brilliant speaker. He described the awful experience that black footballers of his generation had from racist supporters. Then important debates on opposing the far right and defending multiculturalism.

In the afternoon there was a big debate on Public services and celebrating the 60th Birthday of the NHS.

I’ll just have another little dig at delegates who will remain unnamed who “Grandstand”. This is when speakers come to the platform to supposedly speak on a motion or amendment. They barely mention the actual motion but use their time to rant and shout how awful the Labour Government is and how there should be revolution now etc. It is of course perfectly legitimate to attack the government if it is relevant to the motion. But given the same individuals the opportunity to go on and on, time after time, is just wrong.

I think it is off-putting to delegates and gives our enemies ammunition to attack us as dinosaurs and further marginalise us. The only positive thing is that the speakers themselves do not realise how foolish and outdated they look and how harmful it is to their cause.

I think we need to look at the rule book and see if this can be stopped.

Friday, June 20, 2008

UNISON Conference affirms Labour Link (Trots seen off!)

Just a quick report about the last day of UNISON NDC conference. Sorry this post is out of date sequence.

This afternoon we spent nearly 2 hours discussing (motion 63) on whether or not we should review UNISON’s link with the Labour Party. I am very glad to report that after a somewhat “heated” debate, Conference decided in a card vote by a clear majority not to review the principle of a constitutional link.

Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnet, gave a blinding speech, the best I have ever seen him, tearing into the Socialist Party (SPEW) who had moved the motion and exposing their true aim of wanting to divert union money into their fantasy “Workers Party”. There were so many delegates queuing up to speak against any review that they had to stand up to wait their turn.

I was really pleased with the result and very proud of UNISON delegates.

This is not to let the Labour Government off the hook.

To be fair (I am a bit jaded and partisan at the moment) there were a number of fairly mainstream delegates during the week who had been rightly very critical about Labour government policies.

At the risk of being a little bit patronising I felt that the union demonstrated once again its political maturity today by realising that even considering disaffiliation is an own goal. It would be an empty gesture. The Labour government knows that turkeys after all do not vote for Christmas. There is no alternative to the Labour Party for all its faults. Standing on the outside trying to shout in is a waste of oxygen. There is no use us pretending otherwise.

The real issue today is that at this moment, it appears that Labour is failing to deliver. What it is failing to deliver on is its raison d’être for the Labour movement, which is to defeat the Tories. My fear and that of many delegates is that of another 18 years of Tory misrule, not pointless betrayal politics.

I’ll try and write up the rest of the conference in sequence over the weekend.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Defending, Celebrating and Improving the National Minimum Wage"

(A point of order was raised to move to the vote before I could speak - this is the speech anyway)

President, Conference – John Gray, Housing Association Branch, London region – speaking in favour of motion 12.

Conference I would like to congratulate the National Young Members Forum for this motion on its 3 key issues of defending, celebrating and improving the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

If I may address those issues in a slightly different order

Firstly, as the motion rightly points out its introduction is one of the Labour’s government finest achievements to-date and we should celebrate this and the key role that UNISON and the wider Labour movement played. My only quibble on the wording would be that millions, not thousands, of workers have been bought out of absolute poverty by this action.

Secondly, NMW needs updating and improvement. Its starting rate should be uplifted significantly and discrimination against young workers stopped. However, I would also like to add that the NMW should also introduce regional variations to take account of higher costs across the United Kingdom. For example where I work in inner London many workers are on the minimum wage of £5.52.

Like most Londoners I am not from London originally and I have relatives back home who are on minimum wage and they find it very hard to survive. They are amazed that the same rate is paid in London. For many years there has been a campaign in London region for a "London Living Wage" (LLW) which is now set at £7.40. The minimum wage in London should be set and enforced at this level. The London Assembly under Labour mayor Ken Livingston did introduce a LLW for all assembly workers and contractors. How long this achievement will last under Tory Mayor Boris is another matter.

Which finally brings up the issue of defending the NMW? I’m just going to gently remind people that let us not forget that the Tories and allies such as the CBI and the Institute of directors fought tooth and nail against the introduction of the NMW. Despite their current attempt to stop being the "nasty party". They still believe that the minimum wage is an unnecessary interference in the labour market. There is no doubt that if they are returned to power they will either abolish it outright or let wither on the vine by never increasing the annual rate as has happened in America under the Republicans.

As a UNISON Labour Link activist I think you can guess where I am coming from on this.

Conference – please support this motion.

Tuesday: First day of National Delegate Conference

Conference started with “The Presidents address”, it was a proud moment for this year’s President, Norma Stephenson, which she shared with her children and grandchildren who were sitting on the front row. Norma was pretty blunt about her disappointment about the actions of the Labour government and her concern that this will result in the Tories coming into power. She pointed out that many people in this hall had never known what it is like to live under a Tory government. She did and did want to experience it again.

Next we had various speakers trying to refer back the standing committee report (SOC). This was knocked back by an overwhelming majority of delegates. The Chair of SOC, Clytus, explained clearly and in great detail to conference exactly why these motions were ruled out of order.

First motion to be debated was on “Violence and Aggression Against Staff”. This was passed unopposed. Many safety reps had been disappointed on the lack of motions dealing with safety issues last time we were in Bournemouth so it was good to see health and safety being given the prominence it deserves.

I tried to speak on the next motion about “Defending, Celebrating and the improving the Minimum Wage” but got “bumped off” by someone raising a point of order to move to a vote before I could speak. I’ll post the speech anyway. I hope the early point of order had nothing to do with this being a motion discussing one of the Labour Government successes? Surely not? That was just a co-incidence? It was just in the interests of moving business on.

Next was the keynote speech by our General Secretary, Dave Prentis. Dave also had a dig at Gordon Brown and the Labour government. He hinted that UNISON will follow the GMB by withdrawing support from Labour MPs who do not support core UNISON values. He also suggested that UNISON and the GMB future is likely to be together. Apparently a UNISON predecessor union and the GMB were at one time united (Municipal Employees Union in 1899?). Through somewhat gritted teach I would agree that we should merge with the GBM if it proves possible. Many employers use “divide and rule” tactics. Also, we have just seen the GMB balloting against strike action over local government pay while we are balloting with a recommendation for strike action. While at the same time UNISON has accepted the Health service pay offer which the GMB health workers have rejected! Madness, but probably inevitable if you have separate unions in the same sector!

Dave also told another Tony Woodley joke. This time about his “relationship” with joint General Secretary of Unite, Derek Simpson. Dave had asked Tony what he would do if he saw Derek staggering, obviously hurt, in the street. Tony replied “I’ll reload”.

Capital Stewardship Fringe

Once again, apologies for being posting so late. On Monday evening after the end of local government conference, there was a fringe on “Capital Stewardship”, which updated delegates on the latest in the negotiations between the unions and the civil servants on member representation on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

It appears that the government have clearly failed to properly implement a European directive (called an IORP!) This is the “Directive on the Activities and Supervision of Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision” (very boring but very important).

In a nutshell a funded pension scheme must be run in the interests of the beneficiaries not the employer. Also, the fund must have a separate identify from the employer. UNISON is confident that this IORP cannot be lawfully complied with unless beneficiaries (our trade union members) have representatives with voting rights on local pension investment panels or boards.

One example of the current, let us say “questionable use” of our pension funds is that some Councils lend our money either to themselves or other councils and only charge a small basic interest rate (Bank of England rate). When they could much better interest rates on the open market. What this means is that our pension money is being used to subsidise Council tax.

Fascinating stuff I had to leave early to go to our regional delegation meeting. Later that night was the social highlight of conference – the Labour Link “Do”. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Contribution on Motion 43 - Housing debate

(I thought I will post this - Note on the day because conference was running out of time we had to cut it down to 2 minutes from 3)

Chair (vice-president), Conference - John Gray, London Housing Association Branch – speaking in favour of motion 43 as amended.

Conference – I think it was the Labour Party Cabinet minister, Tony Crosland, who 40 years ago, described the way that housing finance in this country was organised as a “dogs dinner”. Little has fundamentally changed since, so I am sure that everyone will welcome the long overdue review of the HRA.

I spoke to conference yesterday about the rubbish pay and conditions that many (not all) housing association staff experience. After speaking at the packed housing lunchtime fringe I found out that While UNISON members in housing associations earn far more on average than non-members, some 25% earn less than £17,000 per year; some earn less than £6 per hour; 20% have either no occupational pension or a poor quality money purchase scheme; 1 in 6 have had no training in the last 12 months! So the branch will be pleased that this motion is proposing some action on this.

One of the chief reasons for this poor pay is that many HA either do not have a JE (I repeat no not have a JE scheme or it is grossly inadequate as well as being potentially discriminative. Most schemes have no input at all from staff side representatives. This is not only a basic TU concern but also a good governance issues. Since for fairly obvious reasons it is vital that the pay of management is properly and fairly arrived at. So we should support the call for a national JE scheme for Housing association staff.

I also support the recent moves by the Labour Government to block HA’s becoming Public Limited Companies with shares quoted on the stock exchange. A small number of CEO in large HA have been quoted in the housing press as saying they would do it if they could. So it is important that we keep a sharp on this. God forbid if there is a change of government.

Finally, conference what was also pointed out at the housing fringe yesterday, you will not make any sustainable headway in dealing with education, health, environment, child poverty, climate change, community cohesion or community safety unless you make housing policy part of it. This is what I call “joined up” thinking.

Conference – please support this motion.

Monday: last day of Local Government Conference

Apologies that this is a bit late but it has been busy, busy. I was very good on Monday and got up at 6.30am for a lovely run along East Cliff then back along the beach. Weather warm and sunny. On the way passed the small army of Bournemouth council workers, emptying bins, sweeping roads and cleaning the beaches. All UNISON members I hope?

Motion 27 supported by the Service Group Executive was narrowly defeated by a card vote (5000?). The motion sensibly wanted to split Local Government conference and National Delegate Conference. So instead of having a very long “conference” that for Local Government members starts Saturday evening and finishes late Friday with close of NDC there would be two separate conferences. This makes perfect sense to me, since it is hardly family friendly to be away for so long and everyone is so knackered at the end. Scottish region was opposed to this motion because the proposed new date in April it clashed with their conferences and Scottish holidays. Hopefully some sort of compromise can be sorted out for next year.

Croydon UNISON Black workers had made a very good video on black history which was shown to conference.

Jean Geldart was ambushed again, this time by Dave Prentis who hosted a UNISON video of her career. They had even found some TV interviews of Jean from the 1970’s. Dave pointed out that Jean was the daughter of the first communist Councillor and the last communist MP. He made a joke that Tony Woodley, the competitive joint GS of Unite said to him that “we have more tankies in Unite than Unison – Dave replied “yes, but we have Jean Geldart". A number of retired activists phrased Jean for her loyalty and hard work for the union. NALGO (one of the founding unions of UNISON) was very different from nowadays. One activist said that it was dominated by “masons and Catholics”. Conference sang “God Save the Queen” at the end. There were very, very women activists. In fact the union newsletter at the time had a “Prettiness New Member” competition.

I spoke on the motion 43 which was on housing issues (see next post). Otherwise a very quiet end to LG conference.

Monday, June 16, 2008

“After the Housing market fails…”

This packed lunchtime fringe was addressed by Pete Challis, the UNISON National Officer (Local Government and Housing) and Alan Walters from Defend Council Housing. The meeting was chaired by John Martin, Chair of the National Community and Voluntary Sector Forum.

Alan spoke first and he appeared to be very conciliatory towards Housing associations and their staff. Making it clear that DCH was not against them as such, rather that they wanted a equal playing field for tenants to make meaningful choices between remaining tenants of Councils or transferring to a Housing association (or ALMO etc). He felt that tenants were being blackmailed into voting for Housing associations by government policy. While DCH did not have a “fetish” about Council housing, they feel that “warts and all”, Council housing has provided decent housing for working class people for many years. He pointed out that there are still 2.5 million Council tenants and some 200 Councils who have still kept their stock. The “success” of DCH he believes is due to it being a unique broad base coalition of tenants, trade unions and councillors from all political parties.

Alan argued that such is the failure of the market in recent times means that there is no alternative to Council’s building homes again and he pointed out that now is an ideal time to obtain (not buy interestingly) all the properties and land banks that private developers cannot sell.

DCH has been very controversial in my branch. Some members are very, very opposed to the DCH and are genuinely concerned about their tactics and motivation. However, at our AGM a motion for our continued affiliation to DCH to continue was passed with fairly widespread support. All the major unions remain affiliated as well.

For years Housing issues use to be thought as a bit boring and very much a side issue. Nowadays, as Pete Challis pointed out it is top of the agenda. Social, Economic and Political. So far over 23,000 homes have negative equity, there is a mortgage famine, repossessions (45,000) are starting to creep up and there are fewer new build starts (from 42,000 down to 32,000). Developers such as Persimmon and Barratt have had their share price decimated. Council lettings and transfer have begun to dry up in certain areas as existing tenants now cannot move out and buy in the private sector. This means that overcrowding and homeless needs are not being met. Existing 106 agreements (called after a section 106 of a housing act – private developers pay for environmental and social improvements in return for planning permission. Many associations rely on this to build social housing) are in danger and new ones of course will be more difficult. This means that the viability of many regeneration schemes is in danger.

Peter also pointed out the issues regarding the cuts and long term uncertainty affecting Supporting People funding (which pays for housing workers who provide vital support for vulnerable residents). The major housing association, London and Quadrant, has recently decided to pull out of Supporting People putting many jobs at risk and affecting 1850 vulnerable tenants.

There is in one small way an upside for housing associations since they have an opportunity to add to stock. Since many developers are desperate to sell. However, often such developments are not always suitable for social housing (for example they may be built in an area with no good public transport links)

He also pointed out the awful wages and conditions that many housing association staff receives. While UNISON members earn far more on average than non-members, some 25% earn less than £17,000 per year; some earn less than £6 per hour; 20% have either no occupational pension or a poor quality money purchase scheme; 1 in 6 have had no training in the last 12 months! UNISON is developing an organising strategy to take these problems on.

While she was housing minister, Yvette Cooper announced that there will be a review of the infamous Housing Revenue Account (HRA). “To ensure that we have a sustainable, long term system for financing council housing”. Yvette has now moved on (as housing ministers do) but she is now by co-incidence a treasury minister who has responsibility for the HRA. Many, many years ago I attended a meeting of residents and their local councillor, who was quite a senior figure. For nearly every local problem that came up, regardless of whether or not it was estate based, he said “Charge it to the HRA”. Due to “right to buy” is it appropriate that tenants only should pay the full cost for estate based community schemes even though 25% of tenures in that estate are now lease or free hold?

Finally, Peter made the key point that you will not make any sustainable headway in dealing with education, health, environment, child poverty, climate change, community cohesion or community safety unless you make housing policy part of it. This is what I call “joined up” thinking.

In the Q&A (or statements from the floor) I asked Pete whether or not housing associations could use the “downturn” as a reason to restrict pay rises of staff! I felt he was genuinely surprised that this could be used as an excuse. We had a good chat about it after the meeting.

Chair, John Martin, ended the debate, remaking as he did that he has been in construction and housing for many, many years and he never seen the market in such state. He is really worried about the future.

Sunday: First day of Business – who needs a magician when you have so many comedians?

Pleased to get up early (07:30) and go for walk along West Cliff and the beach before breakfast. It was lovely and sunny. Saw two groups of lads (not UNISON delegates) who had obviously been up all night and still wandering around still drinking and looking pretty “rough”.

At Conference there didn’t seem to be that many newspaper sellers and leafleters outside. Inside it was a bit chaotic as delegates and visitors queued up to make last minute changes to delegations and replacements for lost identity cards etc. I found our seats and met up with my branch delegation. We had a brief meeting about the day’s business. The morning order of business was pretty quiet – no big rows. All the motions and composites were supported by the SGE. This actually meant in my view that there were more thoughtful contributions on issues than may have been the case if they had been opposed (as we found out later).

Of course some speakers used the opportunity simply to make statements to slag off the Labour Party whenever possible. No big surprise there! It reminded me of the saying that there are more tears from prayers answered than those which are not. A number of speakers who work in Tory dominated councils complained about the horrendous attacks on jobs and services. There seems to be no linkage to this, no recognition that for all its faults, workers in local government are better off under Labour councils and governments than Tories. In my experience strikes and protests over protecting services and conditions tend to be far more successful in either controlled Labour councils or those councils were there are supportive labour minorities. While strikes in Tory Councils and shires tend to be unsuccessful. There are obviously exceptions to this. But not many.

There was also another passionate speech in support of Fremantle. Business passed by very quickly.

During lunch I went to a crowded fringe on “After the Housing Market fails…” which I will post separately.

The afternoon session was livelier. The main bone of contention was a motion (4 and amendments) criticising last year’s pay claim and the way it was dealt with. This was not unsurprisingly opposed by the SGE. The SGE lost during quite a bitter debate. I need to double check on what the motion will actually mean in practice but I was told on the way out of conference by one old hand that we had effectively voted for strike action every April. We live in interesting times.

I spoke on motion 59 which was on “Pay in the Community and Voluntary sector” (CVS). I admitted to conference that it had been a bit of a shock when I became an activist in the UNISON CVS, how many organisations pay such poor wages, have shoddy sickness arrangement and rubbish pensions. There are very good organisations but they are increasingly being under cut in many contracts by those who will cut terms and conditions. “A race to the bottom”. The motion is in many ways a “back to trade union basics” call to organise, campaign and bargain to bring up terms and conditions for all 60,000 UNISON members in CVS.

At 4:30pm there was a guest speaker Ana Lucia Pinzon, leader of the Colombian public sector workers trade union FENAL TRASE. Ana gave her speech in Spanish (it was then translated into English) but she had by far the best reception from delegates of any speaker that day.

The conference finished at 4:50pm. At 5pm a “Marxist magician” was due on the stage to entertain us. I felt that I had my fill of Marx for the day and would give him a miss. After all, poor chap, with there being so many such comedians all day who needs a magician!

The British summer reasserted itself on the way back “up the hill”. Got soaked.

LG conference: London Region delegate Meeting

On Saturday evening there was a delegation meeting at the Hermitage hotel, Bournemouth. The meeting was chaired by David Eggmore who had just beaten me in the Service Group elections. I went and congratulated David on his victory and told him that this was getting to be a habit which I am going to have to do something about (this is the 2nd time he has beaten for this seat). David replied that “in the nicest possible way” he hoped this would be a habit that I wouldn’t be able to break!

The meeting went ahead and was quite straight forward. I picked up my branch “Card vote” and a seating plan for us to find our seats. There was a briefing by UNISON head of local government, Vicky Easton on equal pay issues. Regional delegates Andrew Berry and Mandy Berger spoke about their role in supporting delegates (they will do most things except give advice on train timetables!).

The London Standing Orders Committee (SOC) representative Malcolm Campbell reported back on an earlier SOC meeting. A number of emergency motions had been ruled out of order on the sensible grounds that they were not “emergencies”. The only one allowed was one on fuel costs and mileage allowances. There was also an attempt to explain what “composite motions” are and “consequences” for new delegates. I’m not going to try.

Phil Lewis from the regional newssheet team (who was filming the meeting) gave the usual plea for delegates to write articles for the newsletter.

There was an excellent contribution by care workers from “Fremantle” in Barnet, London who are balloting for further strike action following the large cuts in their pay and conditions, which followed the privatisation of Barnet Council care homes.

There was also a presentation made to Jean Geldart, Chair of the Service Group (and my former branch secretary at Tower Hamlets- picture right), who is retiring after some 37 years. She gave the usual competent and very articulate speech.

That was it – next thing was start of conference at 9:30 Sunday morning.

Saturday night in Bournemouth seemed to have been taken over by very merry and high spirited “stag” and “hen” parties. Of course all UNISON delegates where in their rooms busy reading motions and writing speeches.

(Apologies for no photos but forgot to bring the camera cable – will try and get a card reader and add to post later)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

UNISON Conference 2008

Off soon to Bournemouth to be a delegate at the UNISON Local government conference which begins on Sunday morning and finishes late on Monday afternoon. There are about 850,000 (nearly 80,000 in London alone) UNISON members who work in sectors associated with local government such as my own Housing Association branch. All UNISON conferences are of course notoriously quiet, reasoned and sedate affairs. I have no doubt that this year will be the same.

Immediately afterwards it is the UNISON National Delegate Conference (the “NDC”) which is the UNISON “parliament” for its 1.3 million members (130,000 in London).

Blogging may be a little intermittent during the next several days as I will be doing my best “to fight the good fight” (as I see it of course). So, there will be lots of writing and practicing speeches, plotting and planning and maybe, just maybe the odd occasion to have a drink or two (strictly shandy or diet cokes).

If you have never been to a UNISON conference before, make sure you get a photo for your ID badge BEFOREHAND; go to the Regional delegate meeting (its really useful); don’t buy any political newspapers or magazines unless you really want to; expect to spend ages finding your seat; check out your Regional newsletter; find out in advance the time and location of last bus back to your hotel, go to the pension Capital Stewardship fringe; NDC health & safety fringe. The NDC Labour Link and London Regional social are the best; consider supporting your democratically elected NEC recommendations and especially your poor old conference Standing Order committee; if you don’t support Far left motions and want a dabble at speaking but don’t know who to speak to in your region then give me a pull; tell GK to stop heckling speakers and be quiet if you are sitting next to him; ask me if JR suggests you do or sign anything. Finally, it is also a tradition of conference for London delegates to buy their Regional Finance convener a drink.

There is a lot to divide us but also much to unite. There are a number of interesting motions on health and safety, pensions, equality, workers’ rights and pay to debate. Core trade union issues in my views. Also a whole load of nonsense as well. But such is life.

(picture from last NDC at Bournemouth 2006)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rachel North – A Survivors View on 42 days

Following my rather hostile post last night on what I consider to be David Davis “Self-indulgent Stunt” I had the comment below from Rachel North.

I am annoyed at the presumption that all survivors of the 7/7 attacks support 42 days and the stripping of our liberties for the politics of fear.

I don't support 42 days.
And nor do lots of other people.

And being blown up did not turn me into a Sun reader.

This was my reply

Hi Rachel
Thank you for your contribution. Yes, you are right that no-one should assume that all terrorist “victims” (or rather survivors) are in favour of 42 days et al.

I do though believe the polls that there is a significant majority of people in favour.

Personally, I really don’t know whether or not it is needed. I suspect that it is necessary. But I am willing to accept the judgement of the Police and the Government that it is.

Chris Paul also quotes Rachel being pretty blunt about Luke Akehurst’s original suggestion (mind, Chris is not a fan of Luke - the feeling is I think mutual).

Check out Rachel’s blog and this raw and very honest article that she wrote for “The Times”.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

“Self-indulgent stunt”

By resigning his seat without even the knowledge, (never mind the agreement of his Party leader) David Davies has obviously kept up his ongoing leadership campaign for the Conservative Party.

Luke (and during the BBC 10PM news tonight, presenter Nick Robinson), have suggested that a relative or victim of terrorism will stand against him rather than an official Labour candidate. Which is an idea I think needs examining carefully? Not least because the 42 day detention policy is very controversial but has pretty massive poplar support.

To think that the Tories in government would oppose such a measure that is recommended by the Police, simply just defies belief. Davies is just being hypocritical over this issue and is being exposed as a "grand chancer".

On another level, while trying to be a bit objective (probably unsuccessfully) does Davies actually realise how awfully smug and full of himself he appears in media interviews? I think not or else he would not act in this way. I think he believes his own publicity?

True friends of David Davies; please tell the want-to-be emperor that he has not that many clothes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lobby of Parliament over Pay

Yesterday after work I went to the House of Commons to take part in the “Speak up for Public Services” lobby of MPs organised by the TUC.

I was due to meet up with London UNISON Regional Convener, Gloria Hanson, and UNISON NEC member, Irene Stacey, to lobby Labour MP for West Ham Lyn Brown on “fair pay” for all public sector workers.

All of us work or live in Newham and are Labour Party activists. There had been a packed TUC rally at lunchtime which I had missed and the main lobby was 2-4pm. On route in the Great Hall I met up with John Whitworth, who was also on his way to lobby Lyn. John is a member of the University and College union UCU and had actually been on strike that day at his college over pay! While waiting in the central lobby for Lyn I saw the trade union web and Internet adviser (also an editor of Labourstart and blogger) Eric Lee. Eric spoke to John and took details of the UCU dispute which he would try to get covered in Labourstart. Eric and John also had an interesting and constructive chat about other wider issues regarding UCU.

Gloria and Irene came in with Labour Minister Jim Fitzpatrick MP who they had met beforehand to lobby (Jim represents Canning Town in Newham and Poplar in Tower Hamlets). Years ago I can remember lobbying Jim over social housing issues with a unison convener who was also an active member of the SWP. Jim invited us to Strangers Bar and offered to buy us both a beer (no sandwiches). To my surprise my companion gratefully accepted the offer and seemed to enjoy his pint!

Lyn took the 4 of us to the Palace of Westminster terrace bar. There were a number of UNISON and other trade union members sitting with their MP’s. Including Mike Hayes, from the NEC who gave us a briefing on Equal Pay the other week. The serious business of the day was “lobbying” our MP over what we believe to be the decision to save the government money by paying public sector staff increases below the rate of inflation. The majority of our members are relatively low paid and have been hit hardest by the large increases in many food, fuel and energy prices. The fact that we believe this will also be (is) politically damaging to the Labour Party and the Government was not lost either.

We also discussed the rise of the BNP in East London and potential redundancies in Newham council resulting from a proposed centralisation of services. I had a discussion about cuts in Housing “Supporting People” services and Lyn gave me some helpful advice about how to progress this.

I don’t expect the world to change overnight and as the result of this TUC parliamentary lobby, Gordon Brown is not going to wake up tomorrow and realise that he has made a terrible mistake and will come up with a big wedge of money for us. Nor will such indirect pressures replace the need, when necessary, to confront and stand up to government and employers. We could I suppose just join the protesters outside in Parliament Square and shout at the MPs through megaphones all day. I don’t think that this actually achieves much. While it is not always sweetness and light in the relationship of the trade unions and the Labour Party such as this difference over public services pay. Nor should it. But, just compare this difference with the abyss between the trade unions and the Conservative Party.

The public pay issue is also not just “producer interests” moaning about our share of the cake, it is also pointing out what should be the bleeding obvious to the government that this will not help you win the next election. Never mind the 10p tax fiasco. Reducing in real terms the amount of money that 5 million predominantly low paid voters will receive in their pay packets over the next few years is not only plain wrong for a Labour government to do but barking mad, bad politics as well.

Picture (by ace Parliamentary aide David H) is of Lyn, John W, Me, Gloria and Irene (congratulations on her being re-elected as a London UNISON SGE member). Lyn is looking away from the camera since she is the only one to see that while we were all posing, the House of Commons pigeons were feasting on our crisps and peanuts.

Oh Well, Win Some Lose Some

I have just got the results about the UNISON London Local Government Service Group Executive Election. I was well beaten by incumbent David Eggmore who got 2,882 votes. Second was Glenn Kelly who got a surprising (to me anyway) 2,528. I came third with 1,430 and Oreleo DuCran came 4th with 677. See previous post.

Congratulations to David!

The good news is that Irene Stacey (see next post) won the London female seat 3586 to 3532. Narrowing defeating Sonya Howard. Interesting to speculate about what this actually means?

Bad news I fear also about Rachel Voller and Bill Beekoo in the London Health SGE elections. I am sure that this is just a blip!

Nationally the centre left seemed to have done better.

I enjoyed the campaign and have a number of ideas on how to possibly get a better result in any future elections.

Turnout was as always very poor. 79,507 members balloted, total number of valid votes counted only 7,517. There was an incredible 677 invalid votes cast in my election and 1076 for the female seat? Scotland who balloted 102,282 members only had 61 invalid votes? (Only one seat up for election in that region).

The low turnout meant that in London you only needed just fewer than 3% of the membership vote to win.

Would better publicity, raising the profile of the SGE, internet voting, voting via mobile phones make any difference?

Anyway, such is life, I am now settling down to a nice cup of tea. (still using skimmed milk)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Bakuninites, drunks, Bonapartists

Allegations of threats to “lamp” opponents, “dirty methods” “Bakuninites, drunks, Bonapartistsis” “lies and misrepresentations” - is this just another account of every day life in George Galloway’s Respect or SWP/Left list?

No, these allegations are being made about CPGB PCC (Communist Party Great Britain – Provisional central Committee and publishers of the “Weekly Worker”) by suspended member, John Pearson (picture right) who supports the (believe it or not) Trotskyist Tendency of the CML (Campaign for a Marxist Party). Which appears to be in someway connected with the CPGB?

Ironically the “Weekly Worker” has exposed a lot of the nonsense over the demise of diss-respect. The headline this week is on the possible defection of Tower Hamlets "Left List/SWP" Councillor Oli Rahman (in my view for what it is worth, a misguided but decent bloke and good trade unionist) to the Labour Party.

Click on to John Pearson’s website where he “exposes” the “judicial” investigation by the CPGB PCC. I think this is a genuine website and I haven’t a clue about the rights or wrongs of John’s many and very detailed complaints.

Hat tip thingy to Comrade Mars

Sunday, June 08, 2008

London UNISON New Capitalists

I have just sent out an invite for a meeting to London UNISON members who are pension trustees or member nominated representative on LGPS panels. This is for the London UNISON Capital Stewardship Forum. The meeting will take place on Tuesday 1 July 2008, 2-4pm, at room 2B (second floor) of the University of London Union (ULU).

Agenda items so far are:

UNISON NDC conference – report back on motion, UNIZONE and Capital Stewardship fringe Meeting (Bournemouth Monday 16 June 5.30pm)
TUC Pension Trustee Conference London 27 June 2008
Other conference reports and future events
Campaigns update
Joint working
Governance of Pension Schemes
Update on UNISON National Capital Stewardship Programme/website (UNISON national officer Colin Meech)
Future Training seminar for London region on Capital stewardship
International Union Trustee Meeting London 8-10th July.

This meeting may seem just a little boring but what we will be most likely discussing at this meeting is issues such as protecting pension investments in an uncertain market, lobbying government ministers over governance and benefit disputes, investments in PFI schemes and trade union rights, health and safety for overseas workers who make Olympic sports wear, investments in Burma etc.

Never a really dull moment. ....Honest.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Voting BNP is Evil – so says God

Despite being a convinced atheist it is always nice to know that God is on your side. Even if it is the Church of England (CofE) version which (apologies for the cheap dig) may have many divisions but none of which would have impressed Stalin!

This afternoon I went to a well attended national meeting in Central London organised by Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation. This meeting was on how to meet the growing threat of the BNP, examine what we (anti-fascists) do well and also where we need to improve.

To the left of main Picture is the Rev Paul Butler, a CofE vicar in Deptford, south east London, who gave a marvellous presentation. He is in danger of giving the Established Church a good name in the wider Labour movement. Rev Paul talked to the meeting about how the Church of England is officially not only opposed to the Far Right, but in every diocese in the country there should be a working group meeting on a regular basis on how to tackle fascists. He talked about the Christian concept of “evil” and how the BNP is a modern day example of biblical “evil”. It’s an organisation that’s nasty with a divisive approach which not only encourages hatred between communities and faiths but also hatred against individuals such as gays. He pointed out that when Christians are baptised or confirmed they have to renounce “evil”. To me he seemed to confirm that voting for the BNP is incompatible with Christianity and is in fact an “evil” act. Yep, that makes sense (apologies to Rev Paul for any theological misunderstandings on my behalf).

The first speaker was Searchlight editor Nick Lowles. Nick gave a sober analysis of where we are now and what we are facing in the future. He clearly felt that we cannot defeat the fascists unless we truly understand the reasons why people vote BNP. Simply dismissing these people as Nazi is not going to be at all productive. We need to organise, be self critical and honest. I was pleased to hear that it is now accepted that the crude election leaflets and posters on “Smash the Nazi” etc are now recognised as being counterproductive. They turn off voters (even though I personally love ‘em!).

Nick thinks that there is a danger from the “collapse” of a section of the traditional working class vote for the Labour Party, who will now simply not vote at all for any mainstream party. Even worse, some of them will also then go on to vote BNP. I am not totally sure about this. Yes, the traditional working class is changing radically. The regional secretary of the T&G, Steve Hart, pointed out that in 1979 there was 12.5 million trade unionists, the majority of which were manual workers. Nowadays, there are 6.5 million, 50% of which are professionals! The Labour Party and many trade unions have not on a whole handled this change very well. Are the traditional working class Tory voters now voting BNP? In May 2008 in poor London inner city wards, even in white working class areas the BNP did not poll very well at all. They seem to get a lot of their support from outer London supposedly from more prosperous boroughs?

There were also presentations on case studies by Gerry Gable on organising in Redbridge and Epping as well as Lorraine Fitzsimons from the Yorkshire “Hope not hate” campaign. Searchlight international officer, Graeme Atkinson and then Paul Meszaros spoke about the 2009 European Election (we need to get our act together on this). I enjoyed Graeme’s story about how the Far Right/Fascist group in the European Union Parliament fell apart because they were all so suspicious about working with “foreigners” who they all hate of course. For example, the granddaughter of Mussolini, Alessandra a fascist MEP from Italy, called all Romanians “habitual criminals”. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Romanian Far Right members of this group kicked up a fuss and it folded shortly afterwards.

The very sober message at the end of these presentations was that due to the collapse of UKIP, the BNP will have a chance of winning a seat in Europe next year unless we organise. Under Proportional Representation (PR) in the North West they will only need 8.5% of the vote to win a seat. In many local council seats they regularly win 20-30% of the vote.

(I had to leave early and missed the rest of the meeting – picture left to right of Rev Paul Butler, Southwark Diocese; Linda Perks, UNISON London Regional Secretary; Gloria Hanson, UNISON London Regional Convenor; Nick Lowles, Searchlight; and London Assembly member (Labour) Murad Qureshi.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"Man responsible for his own health? My arse!"

Great steal from the new IOSH e-bulletin and its link to the Men’s Health Forum website. Next week being “Men’s Health Week”.

A man accused of neglecting his health is being put on mock trial as part of National Men’s Health Week, running from 9 to 15 June.

This year’s campaign by the
Men’s Health Forum focuses on men and work, and IOSH is supporting Men’s Health Week as part of its "Back to Health, Back to Work" campaign. There is good evidence that even though men are reluctant to go to their GP with a problem, they will use services provided at work.

There are more than 25,000 health and safety professionals in the UK alone, but only 8,000 occupational health specialists.

IOSH is promoting the role of health and safety professionals and the skills they can use to ‘fill the gap’ in spotting early signs of workplace illness and supporting return to work after an illness or accident.

Interesting that men will use OH services at work rather than going to a GP and that there are so few OH specialists relative to H&S professionals? Discuss...

Update on my own personal health campaign is that “shock, horror” skimmed milk does not taste disgusting anymore and after only a week, semi-skimmed in tea now tastes even creamy! Yesterday, I cycled into work and back again. It took only 25 minutes (Forest Gate to Bow) by main road routes but an hour and 15 minutes home, since I could not find a quick way directly through the Stratford Olympic site anymore. The towpaths and footpaths are closed.

Update 07:05 - just found out that my bike was nicked over night - so need to find plan B!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Meet the Regional Council Officers

On right is the 2nd page from the latest “UNISON in LONDON” newsletter - spring 2008. The feature is about the elected lay Regional Council Officers (RCO’s) for London UNISON. We were elected at the AGM in February.

Social Services Officer, Gloria Hanson who is Regional Convenor; Hospital Electrician, Conroy Lawrence is Deputy Convenor; Hospital Finance Officer, Sarah Lewis is Young Persons Convenor; my good self is Finance Convenor; VAT tribunal officer, Lynn Bentley is Publicity Officer and last but not least College Administrator, Gill Brown is Equalities Convenor.

Double click on the scan and you should be able to read the text. I was definitely not having a “Kodak moment” when my pic was being taken.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

UNISON Community & Voluntary Sector Pension Survey

UNISON's Pensions Unit is carrying out a short on-line survey (click on link) on pension provision currently being offered to our community and voluntary sector (CVS) members.

This is part of UNISON’s ongoing campaign to try to ensure good quality pension provision for members.

So if you are a UNISON member in this sector then give it a go. It only takes a few minutes.

If you are unsure about what pension scheme is offered you may have to talk to your scheme administrators. They are usually very helpful.

Since a company pension (if offered) is an important part of your pay you should have some idea of what is on offer.

(BTW - Here is a dig I had last year at some organisations who have pulled out of Final Salary schemes).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Getting Fit at Work?

I came across this new report from NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) via the HSE website. It is actually called “Promoting Physical Activity in the Workplace”.

It’s a worthy attempt to persuade employers to encourage workers to get physically fit. I will declare an interest. By co-incidence this morning I launched yet another fitness campaign with a run around Victoria Park before starting work. We are lucky to have access to a shower and I followed this up with a serving of Dorset Cereals (a nuts based muesli – quite nice) served with skimmed milk (Yuk).

The report states that “physical inactivity” in England alone costs £8.2 billion per year. This includes the cost of treatment and sickness absence. "Physical activity not only contributes to both physical and mental well being, it is essential for good health. It can help to prevent or manage conditions and diseases including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Obesity can be caused, in part, by too little physical activity - dealing with the consequences of this condition costs a further estimated £2.5 billion each year.

There are no really radical proposals. The report recommends that companies should consult with employees (and their trade union reps!) and draw up a plan or policy, introduce this plan and monitor it. Encourage employees to walk or cycle into work and be active during the day.

Some may say this is another example of the “Nanny State” or that it would end up with all employees being forced to take part in Company PT before a shift as they are supposed to do in certain Japanese car factories.

I think what is interesting is that to get fit and healthy, professionals have been saying years that you have to have a lifestyle change not just a change in diet or going occasionally to the gym. If as the report suggested 60% of waking hours is spent at work, then trying to build in exercise and activity while at work could encourage a sustainable lifestyle change.

The report thinks there is a business case for employers to spend time and money on this initiative. Active employees are less likely to have major health problems, take less sick leave and even have fewer accidents(?)

Surely this is a trade union issue? If the report is right then this inactivity costs lives and makes lives miserable. But, ill-health and sickness is also down to other factors such as poverty, education and access to medical services.

It use to be the case that many employers would sponsor annual works "Sports Days". Also, many professional football and ruby teams were originally set up by factory workers. Local team West Ham FC is known as the "The Irons" and the "Hammers" because it's original name was Thames Ironworks FC. The team received support from management in order to help get over the bitterness of a recent strike!

Of course a company just provides a shower and somewhere to chain up your bike, but still treats employees badly in other ways then I do not think that there will be any improvement.

However at the moment “65% of men and 76% of women in England do not achieve the recommended level of activity for health (to accumulate at least 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity on five or more days of the week). Moderate physical activity is equivalent to brisk walking (approx 5kph)". This is something that government, NHS, employers and trade unions should be tackling.

I’ll let people know how I get on with my "campaign".