Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Labour Party “purges” AWL (Workers Liberty)

The Labour Party has apparently expelled a number of members who are "alleged" to be leading activists in the Alliance for Workers Liberty” (AWL). At least one person who was due to attend last week’s Labour Party conference was not allowed due to the expulsion.

AWL has a somewhat complicated political history as a Far Left Marxist Trotskyite group (see here and below.

It also has long been accused of political entryism into the Labour Party. I do not know that much about the AWL nor whether or not the individuals expelled did in fact break Party rules. Since they may be appealing against that decision I had better not mention any names.

However, I thought that AWL supporters would be in trouble with the Party when I saw that the AWL was supporting non-Labour Party candidates in the local elections in the GLA and local Council elections (they even decided to support the awful SWP/Left List and their candidate German Lindsey - see here). How can anyone do that?

Also, they have also even registered as a political party with the election commission in their own right (see here).

I must admit that personally I have found individual AWL “supporters” to have been on the whole, pretty reasonable and decent folk who you can discuss and debate issues with. Obviously there have been exceptions (You know who you are) and of course I think that their overall politics are frankly bonkers.

But compared to the likes of the vile SWP and its largely deranged brain washed minions....

But if it's activists are in fact organising and standing against the Labour Party then they should either leave or be expelled. End of story. I think that most of them are beginning to realise it is in fact a waste of time to stay. But thanks for the subs for those who do (for now).

A somewhat potted history (since 1966) of the AWL from Wikipeda - Firstly, Revolutionary Socialist League; Militant tendency, then Workers' Fight; then International Socialists; then Socialist Workers Party; then Trotskyist Tendency, Workers Power; Left Faction; International-Communist League; Necessary International Initiative; Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory; Socialist Organiser; Workers Socialist League; Socialist Organiser Alliance; Socialist Organiser ; Alliance for Workers' Liberty; Socialist Alliance; Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform;Socialist Green Unity Coalition.....nuf said?

"In August 2008 two members left the alliance to form The Commune. Their resignations were part of a wave of discussion triggered by an article by (AWL guru) Sean Matgamna which argued that "The harsh truth is that there is good reason for Israel to make a precipitate strike at Iranian nuclear capacity” .

UPDATE: from a usually reliable source


I saw your post about AWL on LabourHome

Membership of it is automatic grounds for expulsion if proven – there are only 2 organisations that are proscribed for entryism where this is the case – Militant (now trading as the Socialist Party and abandoned entryism anyway) and Socialist Organiser (now trading as AWL and running a 2 track in & out policy as some key members were expelled at the point of proscription in 1988).

The SWP (and indeed Tories!) are not proscribed because they don’t practice entryism".

In Honour of the Conservative Party Conference

Lest we forget - what they stand for

(Hat-tip Col. Roi)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Regional Health & Safety – “Violence at Work” compensation

Last week I went to the UNISON London regional health & safety committee meeting. First, we have a normal “business” meeting regarding safety issues in London. Then we usually have a guest speaker. This month we were pleased to see again Henrietta Phillips from the trade union solicitors Thompsons. Henrietta in fact spoke at the last meeting on “work related stress, bullying and harassment”. This time she talked about legal remedies following “Violence at Work” (see new UNISON safety guide here).

During the committee meeting we discussed planning for this year’s European Health & Safety week (20-24 October) and National Inspection Day. It’s too late for this year, but to encourage inspections we talked about buying clip boards and reflective safety bibs with UNISON logos for London safety reps. Maybe all new safety reps should get these things included in the “Welcome Pack” they automatically receive when they become reps?

My favourite agenda item is when each committee member gives a local report on issues in their workplace. For some reason one committee member recalled the issue he came across in his housing department where they had to deal with a tenant who kept his horse in his home. Now, this is not a particularly sensible thing for anyone to do, especially since he lived on the 9th floor of a tower block and he used to take the horse up and down in the lift.

On a far more serious issue it was reported that 104 housing officers in one employer were tested for exposure to TB and 4 (all British born) were found to be in danger of developing the disease and had to be given 6 month courses of treatment. I think we should all review risk assessments for visiting officers to take account of such biological hazards.

Another committee member reported that in their workplace they were getting rid of unnecessary safety signage. These just cause clutter and confuse people. For example, in their main office staircase there was a sign saying “Hold the rail on your Left”. Which is just plain silly - such things give health & safety a bad image.

One organisation had not only introduced home working and hot-desking but had got rid of all desk telephones and issued staff with mobile phones (with email etc). There was an issue regarding the risk to pregnant women from using such phones. Any risk is hotly denied by the mobile companies themselves, but there have been a number of reports about theoretical dangers. It would therefore appear to make sense that such staff should be issued with a normal desk phone for purely precautionary measures.

There is one issue that UNISON needs to get sorted ASAP. Many UNISON branch offices are not accessible to disabled members. This should not happen in this day and age.

Next item was report backs from conferences attended by committee members. Two had gone to this year’s Hazard Conference in the University of Keele. This is probably the most important conference for safety reps. Both committee members found the conference very useful and would encourage people to attend the conference in the future. One mentioned being shocked at a presentation made by the widower of a teacher who had died of an asbestos related disease despite the fact that she had been a teacher all her life and had no other known risk factors. Many, many schools are riddled with asbestos containing materials. Between 2001-2005 nationally 62 teachers were reported to have died of such diseases. A sobering thought.

The meeting agreed that I could attend a conference on 24 November run by the CCA on the “Future of Safety Enforcement”.

I gave a report as the London representative on the UNISON national health & safety committee. I had already been asked to bring up safety concerns over “hot-desking” and to ask UNISON if there are any plans for up-to-date guidance on this topic.

After the close of the committee meeting Henrietta gave her presentation on “Violence at Work” to the Health & Safety network, to which all UNISON branch safety officers are invited.

All UNISON members injured in an accident or assault at work are entitled to free legal advice and assistance form Thompsons. Members can contact UNISON direct on 0845 355 0845 to be referred.

There are 3 possible routes to compensation – claim against the employer, the assailant (not normally any use) or via the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).

The key issue with regard to any possible legal case against an employer is to establish “failings”. An employer has a duty of care to provide a safe place of work and a safe system of work. To win a claim you have to prove that the employer was in breach of that duty, either by breaching safety law or by being negligent and that breach or negligence caused injury.

Usually it is difficult to win since you have to persuade a court that the employer is responsible for a third party assailant. However, if you can establish a pattern of “failings” and negligence you can be successful. Henrietta suggested a checklist of things that should be done after an assault.

Such as report attacks to the Police and record details of crime numbers etc, write you account about what happened as soon as is possible, take copies of all reports you make, ask for copy of employer investigation and RIDDOR reports (if applicable) get full contact details of any witnesses, have photographs taken of injuries, record details of any visits to doctors or hospital, keep any receipts for any expense you incur.

She encouraged all “near misses” or incidents of aggressive behaviour to be recorded. This may help prove that the employers should have been aware of the risk.

At the beginning Henrietta had pointed out that personal injury cases are for workers who have already been hurt, while the whole point of safety reps is to try and prevent injuries occurring in the first place. While I am in favour personally of a “no fault” compensatory payments scheme rather than resorting to legal claims for compensation. If a claim is strong and compensation is paid then this would have the welcome effect of encouraging the employer to change and improve its working practices. As usual - Money talks.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Newham – A place to celebrate

I’ve been folding these Newham Labour Party leaflets for the last few days (see right). I will start actually delivering them tomorrow morning before work. I’ve got 600 to finish off.

It’s a bit late (these leaflets are supposed to be “summer 2008”) but they do meet the lovely Indian summer conditions that we have had in London recently.

They are 4 page Newham wide glossy leaflets localised for each ward. I love the positive message sent out by these leaflets that we should celebrate our borough.

On the eve of the Tory conference there is good news from a Council by-election in Plumstead, London.
Labourhome reports that Labour retained the seat with 6.6% swing from the Tories.

Hospice worker Matthew Morrow won with a 776 majority, with the Labour vote going up 13.25% on 2006.

Full result: Labour 1320, Conservative, 542, Lib Dems 195, Greens 175. Looks like the first example of the post conference Brown bounce

I have also seen a National opinion poll which showed that the Tory lead has halved! There is still everything to play for!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Credit Crunch Comes Home

This morning my better half received confirmation in the post that HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland) is being taken over by Lloyds TSB (see left).

She had a Halifax saving account when it was privatised in 1997 and has kept the shares every since.

Lloyds TSB will pay for HBOS with its own shares. This means that the price paid for HBOS shares will be about £2.32 each. 18 months ago it was £12 per share. On one level - such is life I suppose.

Since she got these shares for nothing in the first place, I don’t think we can feel too cheated by all this.

Obviously, those who have invested their savings or pensions into HBOS will beg to differ. Also, during the summer I spent a night in Halifax, visiting old friends. HBOS has its operational headquarters in Halifax and is a major and significant local employer; my friends had family members who were employed by HBOS. So this must be a really crappy time for them.

What makes me burn over this particular issue is that HBOS was forced to seek a takeover because of the infamous “spivs and speculators”. They sold the company stock “short” on the basis of completely false rumours and lies and the business simply could not survive in such a difficult and impossible market.

These fraudsters (and the rest) need and deserve a good taste of porridge as far as I am concerned. But what really makes my eyes stand out is the prospect that these thieves used my own pension scheme “shares” to destroy HBOS. How many LGPS (local government pension schemes) lent hedge funds their shares in HBOS (for a small fee) only to find that that these same hedge funds had destroyed the underlying value of these shares by telling lies and spreading false rumours.

This is an inevitable consequence of what happens if owners of capital, such as pension funds, do not or are not allowed to take their responsibilities of ownership seriously. The “real owners” (scheme members) need to take charge. Things need to change.

Friday, September 26, 2008

From the Picturesque to the Demolished

If you happen to be free on Saturday night (tomorrow – Sept 27) do come along to this show ‘From the Picturesque to the Demolished – from 20.00 at the Railway Tavern Hotel, Angel Lane, Stratford, E15 – a free evening of video and performance... relating to the demolition of the Angel Cottage, one of the oldest buildings in Stratford, right next door to the venue...

I won't be able to make it tomorrow myself but it sounds really interesting. Not sure exactly what is happening. The excellent pub, the Railway Tavern, is only 5 mins walk from Stratford Station.

The evening event will include works by video and performance artists and architects relating to themes of destruction, political protest or regeneration raised by the illegal demolition of Angel Cottage.

The event will also feature speeches by local residents and activists who have supported the reconstruction of one of the oldest surviving buildings in Stratford .Despite its protected status, the Georgian Grade II listed Angel Cottage in Windmill Lane was demolished under the cover of plastic sheeting in November last year. The 1826 Georgian cottage had been sold at auction for £400,000 and stood opposite the Olympic site and the new Stratford City development on some of the most valuable development land in London .

The illegal demolition was discovered by outraged local residents who demanded an investigation of the case by both the council and English Heritage.The local council has subsequently prosecuted the owner and served an enforcement notice to have the building reinstated brick by brick at the owner’s expense.

Architects are currently trying to reconstruct the building from old photographs.The curators acknowledge the support of the Railway Tavern Hotel, whose staff and customers have been vocal in their support for the rebuilding of the Cottage.

World Day For Decent Work - Tuesday 7 October

Check out the TUC website here about this event :-

The global trade union movement is holding a World Day for Decent Work on Tuesday 7 October. To mark the event in the UK, and in support of the Decent Work, Decent Life Campaign, the TUC is organising a day of activities at Congress House, London, focusing on rights at work and ending inequality in the workplace.

The event promises to be the largest ever gathering of international development and labour-related organisations in the UK concerned with the Decent Work agenda.

Over the course of the day (9:30 - 16:30) there will be over 50 workshops, films, exhibitions and stalls from UK development charities, trade unions, organisations concerned with fair and ethical trade, and academic institutions focusing on the development and gender dimensions of livelihood and income generation issues.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

They Broke it, We Buy It?

Interesting to see what our cousins in trade Unions on the other side of the pond make of the current financial crisis.

The controversial Andy Stern, head of the 2 million strong SEIU, seems far more bolshie than heads of Brit unions. But looking at their demands it seems that having no real equivalent of the NHS, they have much, much more to complain about in the first place.

This may be a little unfair, but checking out their sites and blog, SEIU seem to be more anti-McCain than pro Barack Obama?

Shame about the split with AFL-CIO. Hopefully they will sort that out in the near future.

Good luck anyway with both fights!

Hat-tip to Col. Roi.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scottish Local Government Strike: Labour “Don’t desert local gov workers”

Good luck to the UNISON, Unite and GMB members out on a one day strike today in Scotland over a below inflation pay offer (2.5%).

Check out the UNISON Scotland blog and the list of events on the main site.

This is what UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, had to say on the national issue regarding pay for all Local Government workers at the Labour Party conference today (Tuesday).

"We really do need you to treat our local government workers with dignity, respect and fairness," he said, urging communities and local government secretary Hazel Blears to step in and increase the "insulting" pay offer that had pushed workers throughout the UK into taking strike action.

"Hazel, you have to intervene. Don't prevaricate. You've got to get this mess sorted out. "Pay them fairly and they will vote for you in the next election."

Mr Prentis said local government workers should be celebrated, paying tribute to them as the hidden heroes of our society."Dinner ladies, street cleaners, social workers, bin men, home carers, meals on wheels; caring for our sick and our elderly and our children; picking up the pieces, often behind the scenes – all extraordinary people who I am proud and privileged to represent.

"Yet, he chided ministers, those same workers are bearing the brunt of an "unfair and unjust" pay policy based on the myth that public service pay causes inflation.If the government really wants to tackle inflation, it must tackle the obscene bonuses of boardroom bosses, Mr Prentis said.

It must curb the huge price hikes in fuel bills and tackle the greedy energy companies "making millions of pounds on the backs of our members … the working poor who are taking the hit, paying the price for years of deregulation."

If Labour is the party of fairness, he said, it must show it. "Now is the time for action against low pay. Now is the time to show our people that Labour is on their side, that we are the party of fairness, that when times get tough – unlike the Tories – we’ll be right there."

The Tories look after their own. Let Labour look after ours."

I think that if the Government is really concerned about fairness (and I think it is) then it must not repeat the mistake of the 10p tax rate debacle. It needs to find a way out of the public sector pay hole they have dug themselves into.

This is not simply about naked self interest (being subject to NJC – local government terms - I do declare an interest), Labour has got my vote and support anyway. There is simply no alternative for working people in this country other than the Labour Party. Never has been and in all probability, never will be.

But what will be crucial in May 2010 will be rallying enough traditional Labour voters out on the day to vote. It’s no use the Party thinking that traditional supporters will vote for them anyway since the alternative is the Tories. In these days of nice and cuddly “Dave” Cameron that just will not wash anymore.

Now the Party still has to attract other voters and I am sure that once an election is called people will blink before actually putting their cross on the ballot paper for Cameron. But the core Labour vote will count.

We don’t want to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy (well, I don’t anyway). We just want a Fair deal for our members so we can remind them of all the many great things that the Labour government have done for working people during the last 11 years and the disaster facing them if the Tories get in.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

“Two housing associations are likely go bust in the next 12 months”

The CEO of the multi-billion pound Housing Finance Corporation (not the Housing Corporation as I first misread the piece) Piers Williamson, predicts that two housing association will completely fold “Ujima style” . While there will be a number of “failing associations” which will be merged into larger groups.

Most of the recent failures have been about daft development – over development in a good market. Here we have an abysmal market ......,

So, if he is right, the current market failure will be to blame, unlike Ujima which was down to good old fashioned senior management megalomania.

Associations who have gambled on rising property prices to fund mixed developments are going to find themselves in trouble. Others (hopefully the vast majority) should be OK if they scale back development. Not good news for the Labour Government housing targets.

Nor is it good news if you rent from or work at one of these failing associations. Neither for local communities who depend upon associations not only for social housing but also providing other services.

The government is going to have to think again about its housing policy and its dependency upon cross subsidy from private development. As well as the emphasis on shared ownership rather than homes for rent. This is the time for those who have been concerned that in housing, the tail has been wagging the dog.

We need some more of that “clear red water” that UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, mentioned today at conference.

Tomorrow is my UNISON Housing Association branch executive meeting. I’ll see what people think.Check out Inside Housing who are having a run of scoops recently. May we live in interesting times?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Make Equality Happen – Mandatory Equal Pay Audits

Will you make history as a great reforming government, bringing equality law up to the standards of the 21st century?”

UNISON’s Director of Organising and membership, Bronwyn McKenna, posed this challenge today at the Labour Party conference.

See Press Release here

There is an Equality Bill going through Parliament and UNISON believes that this could finally deliver equal pay for women. What needs to happen is that the bill includes mandatory equal pay audits. At the moment the Government apparently favours a “voluntary approach” towards audits.

I think that the arguments Bronwyn presented demolish the case for any further voluntarily measures. Enough is enough, is this country really serious about getting rid of pay discrimination or is it just going to be leave things to further fester?

Bronwyn points out “Asking employers nicely will not tackle entrenched discrimination,”. Employers have had since 1970 to start paying women fairly. “They have not volunteered to do it yet and they will not volunteer now. The bill must make audits mandatory, along with sanctions that have real teeth if the law is not followed.”

“It is impossible to right historic injustice on the cheap,” Ms McKenna told the conference. “We welcome government measures to allow councils to release money for equal pay but really, nearly 40 years after Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act, it is unacceptable that we are still failing to find all the money needed to pay women – women who are core Labour voters – fairly.”

Current equal pay laws are complex, weak and ineffective, she said: “We know that women are paid 17p an hour less than men; 40p in the case of part-time women.” Yet only 126 won equal pay cases last year – “enough to fit comfortably onto two double-decker buses or one bendy bus in London.”

The legislation must be updated, Ms McKenna stressed. It must comply with European law, and it must allow hypothetical comparators. Equality is at the heart of everything UNISON does, Ms McKenna told the conference. And equal pay is an issue that really matters to the union’s one million women members, the members for whom it is taking tens of thousands of equal pay cases.

Labour governments have always led the way on equality legislation, she said, “and this government is no exception, bringing in life-changing civil partnerships, equality duties and other measures.”

Now it must act on equal pay.

Some of the usual suspects opposed to mandatory audits

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why we need a Capital Stewardship forum in the Labour Party.

Okay, I ’m not going to argue that the only reason for our present day global economic crisis is down to there being no forum for Capital stewardship in the Labour Party.

But... I am pretty sure that it didn’t help and its absence won’t help stop or mitigate the next inevitable financial scandal.

Our collective failure to take responsibility for our own money is a glaring modern day political and social failure. How many of you can say, hand on heart, that your pension or insurance company did not lend hedge funds and speculators your shares in order for them to destroy the value of your other fund investments in the banking sector?

I am certain also that you were fully aware and informed that your investment manager was using your money to buy American sub-prime mortgage bonds? And that these bonds had been certified as being “safe and secure” investments by credit reference companies... who had actually been paid by the same sub-prime bond providers to say so?

Finally, I have no doubt that your approval was sought to pay individuals huge amounts of your savings to gamble huge amounts of said savings, purely on short term market trends and that nobody, repeat nobody, really cared whatsoever what will happen to you - the long term saver. The real Golden Calf of financial services.

Please note that I haven’t mentioned so far that we should as a matter of course make sure that the companies our savings are invested in do not allow child labour, do not deliberately destroy the environment and just maybe, maybe they recognise that it’s a good idea to treat their workforce decently and not harm them.

Ordinary British people legally own British and international companies via our pensions, insurance policies, PEPS, ISA, privatisation shares, unit trusts, investment trusts and individual share holdings. With ownership there comes responsibility as well as financial rights of return. If you do not exercise your rights of ownership in the companies that you own, then you run the danger that the people who you employ to exercise these ownership rights, run the company to benefit their short term aims (i.e. massive bonuses) not the interests of its real owners (you - the mug).

The UNISON website on Capital Stewardship notes that “it is estimated that occupational pension schemes and small savers "own" more than 50% of stock in the world's major companies”. If people like us own these companies how come we have so little influence over the way they behave?

A number of us who are interested in this issue and are members of the Party have been kicking this issue around for the last year or so. Our idea is that there should be a forum within the Party to discuss capital stewardship issues.

Our broad objectives are -
To develop a proper understanding of the UK financial system and capital markets within the labour movement
To contribute to the development of coherent policy objectives, within both the Labour Party and affiliated organisations
To act as a resource for elected representatives and officials with responsibility for the stewardship of capital

I have spoken at a number of local Labour Party meetings and with senior figures in the Party that I have managed to badger about such a forum. So far I have not had any really negative comeback. Others have taken it further and it would appear that many in the Party are genuinely interested in participating in such a forum.

I moved this motion (below) at a recent UNISON regional Labour Link meeting and we will be discussing it at my GC next week (supported by wards and other affiliates).

If anyone wants anyone to speak at your GC on this issue then please l let me know (London only so far). If you agree with its sentiments then send it in to your trade union branch or ward/CLP.

This conference notes that London is the home of British and international financial services. Billions and billions of pounds of investments are traded here daily. Much of this money is invested in company stocks and shares.

While much of the ownership of the UK’s public companies ultimately lies in the hands of small British investors and ordinary workers who belong to pension or insurance schemes. This is not only just their savings for retirement which must be safeguarded, but also such investors are increasingly concerned that their money is properly invested in accordance to modern good investment practices.

For example they want to ensure that the companies they own do not use contractors who employ child labour, do not pay excessive salaries to executives and do not cause damage the environment. Well managed companies with good governance practices should also produce superior investment returns in the long run. This is called Capital Stewardship.

In the Labour Party there is currently no forum to discuss and debate Capital Stewardship issues. This conference resolves to encourage London affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and CLPs to support and encourage the establishment of a national Labour Party forum based in London to progress Capital Stewardship and good investment governance initiatives.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

“Housing chiefs enjoy bumper pay hikes”

Soon after I posted last month on the 32% pay increase (to £327,000pa) of the Housing Association boss of Anchor Trust, the UNISON office rang to warn me that someone who was “very angry” had rang them and was trying to contact me.

Now professionally and politically, it is not exactly unknown for “angry” people to want to contact me for various reasons. But when I actually spoke to this elderly person after she emailed me via this blog (who I have never met and whose voice was literally shaking with anger as she spoke) her fury was about this pay rise and ‘... how on earth was it allowed to happen...’ A good question.

Yesterday, Inside Housing reports that the average pay rise of Housing Association Chiefs 2007/2008 was an inflation busting 7.3%. While the top 10 highest paid enjoyed an average 15% increase. Number one of course was John Belcher, chief executive of said Anchor Trust.

Now, I will try and be objective over this news. I will say from the onset that I personally have no objection to hard working, talented, successful people earning significant financial rewards from leading large, complex and, of course, flourishing organisations.

There is of course the inevitable “but”. My “but” is that these salaries should also be reasonable in all the circumstances and not excessive. While one part of me might just simply despair at the numbers, I think also that there are sound, reasoned and persuasive arguments that paying senior management such huge amounts of money is also wrong for good business reasons.

I simply do not believe that you can have a successful organisation with a positive and inclusive company culture, where the senior management are paid vastly more than the mass of employees. Surely there is no justification for paying say more than 10 times the salary of the lowest paid? I include contracted out workers such as cleaners and security staff in this calculation. I suspect that Anchor Trust have such staff on minimum wage. That means that John Belcher earns over 28 times the earnings of such employees (£327,000 divided by £11,481). This just encourages a “them” and “us” attitude.

What is potentially even more destructive to the morale of housing association staff is if their wages are increased by less than inflation while their senior executives enjoy above inflation large pay rises. In many Supporting People contracts staff are being offered no pay rise, skill levels are being reduced and working hours increased for no extra pay. UNISON national housing officer Mike Short argues that this may be discriminative since many of these already low paid workers are female.

Never mind what hard pressed residents think of their Chief Executive’s salary as they struggle to pay their rent or service charges.

Such pay rises are also extremely damaging to the social housing movement as a whole. There have been a number of very negative comments about housing associations made recently by MPs. I have myself met a number of MPs, Assembly members and senior local councillors who despair of housing associations. They are not the “usual suspects”.

Housing associations enjoy large public subsidies in development aid and many residents receive housing benefit to help pay their rent. This is huge amounts of public money that we are talking about. How do we ensure that the salaries paid to senior staff have been properly arrived at and accounted for?

Following the governance failures that led to the demise of Ujima Housing Association, how confident are we that boards are able to challenge excessive pay?

Ironically, while there are justifiable complaints about the level of executive pay in the private sector, at least (in theory anyway) all shareholders have a vote at the company AGM on executive pay. However imperfect this mechanism is it means that the private sector is more accountable than the public sector in this field.

The regulator seems toothless over this issue and more concerned with justifying their own large pay rises.

Clearly the “market” has failed the housing association movement over pay. Bearing in mind recent economic events where we find a ring wing US Republican government nationalising banks, we should now all know beyond doubt that it is right for the state to intervene when the “market” fails in such ways. Better still; intervene now before things get worse.

Last year at the UNISON Housing fringe at the Labour Party conference I questioned the then Housing minister, Yvette Cooper, about excessive pay for association chiefs. She said that she would consider sending a message on this issue. Since it now seems that many executives now get more than twice as much as Local Government & Communities boss Hazel Blears (£138k per year), it appears that the message has been lost in the post?

I expect this year at the conference this issue will not go away. Now is time to act and intervene?

(BTW what did Boston Mayflower have to hide, since they were the only HA to refuse to take part in the Inside Housing Survey?)

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Racist" BNP Brothers face being struck off teaching register

The Times Education Supplement (TES) reports about the prominent BNP members, Adam and Mark Walker, who stood for the BNP in last year's Council elections. They are facing being struck off the teaching register for their "racial and religious intolerance".

They are accused of misusing school computers for BNP (a Nazi supporting Party) political purposes. Mark Walker resigned but Adam Walker was subsequently found to have used School computers to post what even one of his supporters described as “very intemperate” stuff about immigrants and Muslims.

This same person claims that the elder brother, is not a racist since "he taught Karate and had been married to a Japanese women".

So that’s alright then.

Christinna McAnea, Head of Education at UNISON is quoted as questioning whether BNP members should be allowed to teach. "Schools should be centres of learning and tolerance, not a breeding ground for the poisonous views of the BNP"

Hear, hear!

(Picture above is of young children who were subject to medical experiments in a Nazi death camp. I hope those who support the Walkers will look at this picture then look at their own kids/nieces/nephews/grandchildren...and think a little)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Crib Goch and the fellowship of fear (1)

Mostly off message and self indulgent, but what the heck. Last month Mrs Grayee and I were in North Wales, looking after my sister’s house, Jazz the Chocolate Lab and the cats (Psycho Jack and New Moses) while the family were on some lovely hot Greek Island.

On the Friday before the Bank holiday, I was let off for good behaviour to go and walk up Snowdon by myself.

Now there are various footpaths up and down Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales). I have gone up all the main footpaths a number of times over the years, but I had a yen to get there via the famous Crib Goch ridge walk. I had a vague idea that I had walked this path with my Dad when I was a kid. I thought it had been a bit hard but not that bad. That day the weather forecast was pretty good, so I thought - go for it. I had an OS map which appeared to show a footpath all the way.

I drove to the car park at Pen-Y-Pass and luckily managed to secure one of the last parking spaces just after 8.30am. I was full of energy and enthusiasm and stormed up the Pig’s trail to the turning off for Crib Goch.

Pretty soon the path disappeared apart from cairns. I then soon lost the cairns and was scrambling and climbing up what I thought was pretty damn steep climbs. It wasn’t a great day to wear shorts either and my knees and shins were just scraped to pieces. At this early stage I was not that happy (little did I know that it got worse – or how worse). The really good thing was that my fellow climbers were not sure about the best route either and that we started chatting about what we should do next? We didn't know each other. Now on a normal busy day, the footpaths to Snowdon are the fresh air equivalent of the M25 at rush hour. As you pass people bye up and down, you usually only exchange a "good day" or a joke at best. The half of dozen of us within sight at this time attempting Crib Goch were calling out to each other, warning about loose rock and discussing about the best way forward.

You don’t walk up Crib Goch, you climb. Now, while to any experienced climber, I have no doubt that this so-called “climb” is to them a “walk in the Park”. To the majority of us, it was bloody hard work and very difficult. A few times I climbed up so far, only to lose my nerve and think, nah – I ain't going any further this way. You then had the even unpleasant climb down to some point where you could start again via another possible route.

One completely unexpected problem was that the rock itself was not always that secure. Much to my horror, you would grab hold of what appeared to be a secure bit of rock or use it as a foot hold and it would come away. I dislodged a rock the size of a half brick which came tumbling down and nearly hit a very friendly young couple below. Eventually, I found that there were climbs that you initially thought were impassable but eventually you could scramble ungainly up them, with sweat pouring out of your every pore.

When we finally got up to the top, after what I thought at the time was a really unpleasant and in fact, bloody awful experience, I was to be absolutely horrified at what I found next.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

London UNISON Regional Committee – “This has been a Good Meeting”

The London Regional Convenor, Gloria Hanson made this (title) comment at the close. I must admit that it was the most sensible and constructive regional committee meeting that I have ever attended. This was a relief after the rather weird and wonderful antics at the recent Regional Local Government meeting.

This committee is made up of elected lay Regional Council officers (the “Executive”), Regional Committee members and representatives from UNISON Service group committees and self-organised groups. London UNISON elected National Executive Committee members can also attend and speak (but cannot vote). Senior full time UNISON employees such as the Regional Secretary are also present.

UNISON’s democratic structure is - how can I put it? Somewhat complex....if you are a UNISON member and want to find out more about how your union is organised then there is a very good course (and aptly named!) called “Lost in UNISON” which I would thoroughly recommend.

I attend as a lay elected Regional Council Officer and as Regional finance convenor I presented the finance report to the committee.

There was a report on recruitment and organisation. In London region we have 130,000 UNISON members. Some 10% of all UNISON members are in our region. On September 5 there was a very successful and well attended “Organising our Future” event. The event launched the “Branch Resources Recruitment Stick”. This clever idea is a computer memory stick for branches which holds core resource and recruitment information. It contains key website links, for recruitment material as well as model templates for letters, flyers, induction power point presentation, guides for newsletters etc. This is a really exciting development which we think is unique to London region.

There was a sober and wide ranging debate on pay negotiating and bargaining. The campaign continues but we must examine what has happened so far and learn lessons for the future.
Discussions have been re-established in the local government pay dispute.

Members in Probation are about to be balloted for strike action over a disappointing pay offer and the failure to implement last years award in full. In Further Education a 3.3% offer has been made and this will be balloted on with members.

The Regional Secretary reported on Pension governance. Work in the region has begun on mapping the existing governance arrangements. Once competed there will be targeted briefings for current and potential (YES!) trustees and member nominated reps. This is really good news. Investment Governance is now starting to be mainstream.

On diversity issues there will be an Equalities seminar on 22 October. Where a new regional Equalities Award will be made. The focus will be on training and preparation for the Single Equality Bill. There was an update on the Stephen Lawrence Action Plan.

The report on Political Campaigning concentrated on the important work the region carries out on campaigning against the Far Right. The local UNISON branch in the GLA has received a lot of support following the election of the Nazi BNP member, Richard Barnbrook.

It was reported that the BNP are standing a candidate in a Camden Council by-election next week (September 25th)

UNISON regional Labour Link (APF) is working with TULO on the European elections next year and the borough elections in 2010. It is also helping to fund the Labour campaign organiser against the Far Right in East London. The London Labour Party regional Biennial Conference will take place on 22 November (I’ll be there).

The Regional Policy day will take place on 21 October (Trafalgar Day). This is a training day and will evaluate the regional plan, identify next year’s priorities, working with other unions and budget planning.

There were useful discussions about UNISON national consultations on a branch and regional structure review, reserved seat consultation (those NEC seats reserved for low paid female workers), the national minimum wage target, branch representation at National Delegate Conference.

The sad news about long standing UNISON activist Joyce Conway (Health) who passed away on 17 August resulted in all members standing for a minute’s silence. UNISON was well represented by branch and regional officers at her funeral. “She will be missed”.

My Finance report went ok (pretty boring and mostly for noting).

The arrangements for the next regional council Meeting on 9 October were discussed.

Reports from Self organised groups, retired members (David Jones putting the rest of us to shame with his full and detailed report), sub-committee reports (I gave one on behalf of Europe/International and health & safety committee).

The final item was a report on the Labour Link committee by its Joint Chair, the indomitable (a School crossing officer or lollypop lady - from Barking and Dagenham) Louise Couling.

Louise talked about the importance of campaigning against the BNP, not only in her borough but else where in London “the plague is spreading”. Louise is a top to bottom, grass roots, trade union activist and Labour Party diehard supporter. She recognised that the party was going thorough difficult times and that it had made mistakes (public sector pay) but she was passionate in her conviction that we had to support the Party to defeat our natural enemy, the Tories.

It was a bit of a shame that in the Q&A afterwards, one committee guest who claims somehow to be a Labour party supporter, was practically dribbling in his excitement at the prospect of the Party losing the next election. He also asked Louise, I assume sarcastically, how could she contribute to Labour winning the next General election? She immediately replied “by voting Labour” which brought claps and cheers by the non-defeatist majority of the committee.

As Gloria said “A good meeting”. May there be more of them as we play our bit.

(this is of course my own very personal interpretation and report back on this meeting and is not intended to be an official regional record or minutes in anyway – BTW - since this is not a radio advert you do not need to read this quickly)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Crash, Bang, Wallop - United we stand, Divided we will fall

As much as I am loathe to make any reference to The Sun, on the way home tonight I saw this front page banner headline (crash, bang & wallop) and the by-line "We will all pay a price for unscrupulous bankers who threw caution - and our money - to the wind."

Quite true I thought. But please can we in the Labour Party also ask certain junior ministers and MP’s to stop being politicians who are throwing caution away (never mind there I say prudence) - into the call for a "Perfect Storm"... A divisive, bloody leadership contest a mere 18 months before a probable general election.

Do I really have to spell it out any further?

Crash, bang, (and then) wallop – would sum up pretty well what will happen to us unless people start to unite.

Nothing, repeat nothing is inevitable in politics except defeat due to division.

We do not want the Tories to win FULL STOP This should be our real overriding manta. A change in leadership is not going to achieve anything.

Monday, September 15, 2008

UNISON London Regional Local Government Committee

The joy, the joy....having done something awful in a previous life I must now atone for my sins by being a delegate to this committee.

While I think it is important this committee has some representatives who actually reflect the wider membership of the union and recognise that they live in the here and now, it should really be subject to some sort of a preservation order.

Some delegates (excluding myself obviously) actually made some well founded and even articulate arguments (which I may or may not have agreed with). But most of the contributions were from a past golden age in the Labour movement when Trotskyite ranting and postulating actually meant something (not a lot even then).

As someone who loves political history, I revelled in the passionate tales told of duplicitous full time trade union officials, a sell out elected national leadership and numerous accounts of very, very "angry" and very, very "disgusted" members. All of whom want nothing more than strike, after strike, after strike.

Wake up comrades.

In particular I will treasure the contribution by one I know well, who addressed the meeting on a motion regarding the Labour Party. He confidently assured the audience that there was no-one present who thinks that the Labour Party will win the next general election. Hello? Comrade grayee of course made clear his views that the Party can indeed win, even if it is going to be difficult. It is fair to say that most present did not of course concur. But if we had to rely on their votes – Deus, adiuva nos.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Labour Party National Campaign Day: Out and about in the British Estate

Yesterday I went to Tower Hamlets to help out with campaigning in the new Poplar and Limehouse parliamentary constituency (CLP). West Ham CLP is twinned with this seat, which is held by Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick.

Jim is supposed to be facing the utterly loathsome, George Galloway, as his “Respect” opponent in the next General election. The SWP/bigots coalition has largely collapsed recently, so the only beneficiaries of a respect campaign in this area will be the Tories. Galloway, of course would still have his radio and other well paid media interests when he loses.

We ended up in Berkeley House, which is a 21 floor tower block in the British Estate. This block is managed by East End homes and is being refurbished. We picked up quite a lot of case work, especially over the renewal of the block lifts and parking issues.

I found solid support for the Labour party in this ward, also no interest whatsoever in any change in Labour Party leadership.
Picture of my ace canvass team Rachel, Jimbo and James is above.

While to the left the picture is a new sign of the times; the graffiti in the communal stairs includes people’s email addresses!

I can't believe that there is no apparent Concierge service for this block? We just walked in. It is not the answer to all problems, but you do need effective 24/7 security for such blocks.

I appreciate that the block is being refurbished but the graffiti in the stairs was particularly bad.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gray becomes Scots Labour leader

I couldn't resist this headline.

Congratulations to Iain Gray after becoming the elected Party leader of the Scottish Labour Party (my father was from Edinburgh but Iain is no known relation – Gray is quite a common surname in Scotland).

I can't remember coming across him when I lived in Edinburgh and was a Party member in the mid 80's? I think he was probably working as a teacher in Mozambique at that time.

Iain was not the favourite to win but ended up with 57% of the vote.

From the video he comes over as a really decent bloke. He seems also to have seen something of the world outside the usual political bubble. Gordon's preferred candidate apparently...which is interesting. If Gordon is as hated as some would have us believe then he would not have stood a chance. I'll post on this later.

UNISON Wins £76 a week pay rise for Hospital Cleaners

A good news story. The UNISON branch at St Georges Hospital, Tooting, South London has won a £76 per week pay rise for 350 private contract hospital cleaners employed by ISS. This is a massive 36% rise for some of the lowest paid hospital staff in London. They now have a minimum wage of £8.21 per hour, up from £6.03.

Local Labour Party MP Sadiq Khan was thanked for his help in the campaign. A good example of "joined up" working I think.

From UNISON press release

Michael Walker UNISON Regional Officer said; “This is a great victory for some of London's most important but often neglected group of hospital workers "This interim agreement represents the culminations of months of campaigning and lobbying by UNISON, we are pleased that the UNISON campaign has not only secured the support of medical and nursing staff, but also of local Members of Parliament, most notably Sadiq Khan MP for Tooting".

Geoff Thorne UNISON Branch Secretary said:"UNISON has worked hard to bring about a minimum wage of £8:21 for all staff employed at St Georges Hospital, whether NHS or private contractors. "This interim agreement represents a sound base to build for pay justice for all health workers""Many of our members were presently finding great difficulty in living on just £6:00 an hour this increase is good for them and their families

Shirley Thompson UNISON ISS convenor at St Georges said:“The cleaning staff at St George's hospital come from all corners of the globe and play a vital role in keeping hospital infection rates down. This interim agreement is an important step in reflecting that vital role and securing pay justice for hospital cleaning staff."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

John’s Labour blog - No. 1 UK Trade Union Blog (ish)

I’m on-line, officially thanking anyone and everyone, soon of course emotion will completely overwhelm me and I will burst into bloggersphere tears and start sobbing my virtual heart off. I will blubber (via facebook) my thanks to Mom, Pa, Mrs Grayee, my blog readers (and even my blog haters!) the London regional Council officers, the convenor and GOD (If you are an UNISON activist you will know who I mean).

The reason for this raw display of emotion is that the TIGMOO web site (This Great trade union Movement Of Ours - tigmoo) reports that John’s Labour blog is the Number One trade union blog in the UK (sort of)!

Trade Union Web 2.0 super propagandist Johninnit reports that this poll was in response to Tory Boy, Iain Dale, who has recently with Total Politics ranked UK political blogs. I was apparently the 32nd Labour Party blog, 68th left wing blog and 177th overall Political blog.

Not that we should really place that much reliance on Tory Boy!

This is what Tigmoo has posted (pdf) and why they think I am the "number one" trade union blogger.

TIGMOO.co.uk is an aggregator service for blogs about unions and unionism in the UK. Over 90 blogs have joined the network, which scans them for new content every hour and publishes a feed of links directly into their stories. By visiting one site, you can stay up to date with over 90 different opinions on union matters.

1: John's Labour blog
Unison NEC member reporting on his work as an elected official and union issues in general, with a strong focus on Labour party activism through the Unison Labour Link, and on developments in pensions policy. grayee.blogspot.com

The 94 blogs in the TIGMOO network were ranked according to four equally weighted factors: Traffic ratings from Alexa.com, number of posts in the last 8 weeks, number of comments in that time, and the number of inbound links found by Google. Of course, these technical measures have a huge margin of error, especially when dealing with smaller sites, and quantity doesn’t always predict quality (ouch!).

BTW - I am not of course a UNISON NEC member. Freudian slip no doubt.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SWP sack Rees and German

Good news – We heard this morning that he was unwell. Now we find that what goes around does eventually come around. Both Dear leaders of the SWP and disrespect (seen left toasting each other in happier days) are about to become ex-leaders and central committee non-persons.

Check out the fun on various ultra lefty websites who all hate the SWP and their malign influence. commune, stroppyblog, Socialist wreakers & splitters, Workers Liberity.

The SWP central committee have obviously decided to punish them for allowing the Stalinist Galloway to win the only party political victory in his life. Not that he will be around for long either.

This is from “Left Alternative Members Bulletin 10th September 2008". Which of course is just a SWP front.

“1. Statement from Left Alternative officers
“The officers of the Left Alternative are sad to have to inform our members of the resignations of John Rees and Lindsey German from the officers group and National Council. However, they remain members of the Left Alternative.

“John and Lindsey have been tireless members of the officers group and National Council since the inception of Respect. As National Secretary, John has provided consistent judgment and direction in the most difficult political circumstances, while Lindsey has been our inspirational Mayoral candidate in the GLA elections in both 2004 and 2008.

“The National Council, at its meeting on 6th September, agreed a unanimous vote of thanks to John and Lindsey for everything they have done for our organisation. We are proud to have them as members of the Left Alternative and look forward to continuing to work with them in campaigns from Stop the War to the People before Profit Charter.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Please do not insult our intelligence.

Harrys Place has the best info on this but I like this comment (from someone who is not a friend of Kim and his Mrs) :-

"it just shows what utter political failures the SWP are 30+ years on and they are still small, miniature when compared to European parties of the Left. these people are professional activists, it is all they do day in day out, and they are utterly useless at it, by their own criteria failure after failure:

1) StWC, millions lost, down next to nothing2) create Respect, support Galloway’s iffy goings-on3) get stitched by Galloway, lose the plot4) start another front organisation, watch it fail at the London election5) haemorrhage members Left, Right and Centre6) Piss off nearly everyone else on the Left.7) watch this other front organisation collapse
complete inadequates, useless"

I of course, couldn't possibly comment.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Line up 1,000 loose cannons pointing in half-way the right direction

Excellent post by trade union blogger Johninnit from the TUC congress in Brighton. He makes four predictions about how unions (or at any rate unionists) will be using Web 2.0 by 2010. He addressed a fringe on this subject with Eric Lee who helps edit Labourstart (who I have met). I have never met John even though he once made a banner for me in “Second Life”.

1st - He believes that it will empower the grass roots and points to the 13,000 users of the successful TUC network unionreps.org.uk who share advice and resources. Globalisation could also encourage unions to form connections internationally. There is a General Motors Workers’ blog where GM car plants across the world connect with each other.

2nd - More creative on-line campaigning. Unions and activists can nowadays produce near professional quality campaign material. The Postal Strike YouTube video shown (above) on this post (pardon the pun) is he believes an example of what can be achieved by activists. Quality may be mixed '…they may be loose cannons sure, but if you could line up 1,000 loose cannons pointed in half-way the right direction, I know which side I’d rather be standing.'

3rd - Is an improvement in Union democracy and consultation.

4th - Using the internet will also reach out to young workers who would otherwise never consider joining.

The trade union movement is notoriously conservative (with a small “c”) which personally I feel is a reflection on its membership. Membership has fallen since the peak of the 1970’s but in recent years has stabilised. Sometimes you come across activists who think either its all doom and gloom for the movement or equally bizarrely, we’re just on the verge of “Revolution Now” comrades. It’s refreshing to read something which is both positive and realistic about the future of trade unions for a change.

This is not an alternative “techie only” argument to the traditional values of organising, educating, training, internal discipline and building the union. It should not be either a "free-for-all" by activists regardless of rule or policy. Nor of course, is it a substitute for talking face to face to members when this is possible in the complex modern workplace. The success or otherwise of such traditional values will make or break the movement in the end. Rather, our society and economy has changed radically in recent decades (years?) and trade unions simply have to reflect this.

It’s a Card Vote..Where is the B............y Card?

You had to feel for the Unite union delegate at yesterdays TUC conference at Brighton, who lost his or her voting card. This was during the close vote on whether or not to support national strikes over public pay.

This meant that the motion was lost despite Unite supporting it. Their joint General Secretary, Tony Woodley, admitted to the BBC that this was so but claimed that it matters “not a jot” since many unions were planning action anyway.

It is the stuff of nightmares to most delegates at trade union or political conferences I think. It is even worse than walking into the conference hall in the morning and realising you have left the card at your hotel. Or the bell goes and you find the delegation leader holding the card has popped to the loo.

(BBC Picture of the Day - Alistair Darling at today’s conference)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Christian Bigots Alliance

I received an email via this blog the other day from the creator of a “take-off” site attacking the fundamentalist Political Party in Newham, the (so called) Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA).

This site is modelled on the MegaMosqueNoThanks which was set up by the CPA to attack a proposal to build a large mosque in Newham.

Now, I have had a dig at the CPA, especially their Megalomaniac leader, anti gay, anti pro-choice, Alan Craig, who makes Sarah Palin seem like Richard Dawkins. I think that Alan Craig’s behaviour over the mosque has been an utter disgrace and he has deliberately pandered to islamophobic sentiment to try and gain political support.

The parody site does make some very serious allegations against the CPA and its connection with the BNP, which I don’t totally share, but I do understand why many people in Newham equate the CPA with the BNP.

The CPA appear to have had to change their website design due to the spoof site and on the “real” CPA website, their “Poll” on the building of the mosque now shows a vast majority of people in favour of it. Well...

Newham is in East London, and it is a great place to live and work. It is also one of the most diverse communities in London. There are of course problems, nowhere is perfect. The deliberate stoking up of fear and ignorance by Craig does nothing for Newham. All he has done is to offend and cause division.

This morning I heard a very good “Thought for Day” on the “Today Programme” Radio 4 by Clifford Longley, about US Protestant fundamentalism and the phrase “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars’ and unto God the things that are Gods’”. Now I am probably the last person to quote scriptures but frankly it would be better for everyone if Craig kept his views for his pulpit rather than trying to ignite modern day crusades.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

European Health & Safety Week - Monday 20 October to Friday 24th

This year’s theme is “risk assessments”. This is a superb campaigning issue for trade union safety reps to take up in their workplace.

Despite clear legal (and common sense) requirements of organisations to have sufficient and suitable risk assessments to protect their employees from significant risks, it is I think pretty clear that many organisations to do not comply. They may indeed have detailed "assessments" filed on shelves, but in practice many workers will have no idea whatsoever that they are there and that they are supposed to be protected by these “assessments”.

The Wednesday of European Health & Safety week is always “national inspection day” in UNISON. So on this day all safety reps are encouraged to inspect their workplace. As part of the inspection process also audit all the site risk assessments.

In all probability you will find that in many cases either they do not exist, are out of date or otherwise inadequate. In that case bring it up with your local safety committee and if that does not result in an appropriate response make an official complaint to the Health and Safety Executive or the Local authority environmental health department.

It is always a failure if you have to involve outside agencies over internal safety issues. But sometimes it is necessary. Make sure that you can demonstrate to the enforcement agencies that you have tried your up most to work with your employer to get them to comply before having to complain to the HSE or EHO.

But if it is necessary do not hesitate to complain, because your members lives are at risk.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Making a difference – real “joined up” local politics

This morning I helped out as a volunteer at our local MP, Lyn Brown's, latest “Community development” meeting (a.k.a “Coffee morning”)in the super swish new headquarters for East Thames Housing in Stratford, London, E15.

Lyn holds a series of meetings across her constituency each month and invites local residents to come and meet her to discuss local issues and their concerns. In the past she has held joint meetings with various local agencies such as the Police Safer Neighbourhood teams to discuss anti-social behaviour. Today she had a joint meeting with the local NHS Trust in Newham. The Chief Executive, Melanie Walker, attended together with a team, who did free MOT health checks for every one who turned up (height, weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels).

As befitting in my position as a senior Party activist I had a suitable vital and important job to do i.e looking after the teas and coffee.

Local Councillors for the ward also helped out and took case work.

The meeting was packed from beginning to end and everyone I spoke to felt it was a really good event. Meeting your community leaders face to face around a table and having the opportunity to question and challenge your local MP, councillors and the boss of your local health services is what local politics should be all about.

Being East Enders, most people had quite a lot to say and didn’t hold back, but the atmosphere was absolutely very constructive and positive. “Trust the people”comrades!

I think that on the whole most people were very appreciative of the improvement in health services in Newham. There are still problems with, for example, GP surgeries who take too long to answer the phone and don’t offer appointments early enough. But people did accept that things were getting better.

Interestingly, many of the complaints were about the relative high cost of using the borough gyms and swimming pools. Residents wanted to become healthier but felt they could not afford it. Isn’t prevention better (and cheaper) than cure?

I came away from this event on a real high. This is “joined up” politics in action.

Maybe next time Lyn could meet residents with the CEOs and staff of the major housing organisations in West Ham?

Just a thought.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Fight Back Starts Here: A Ward Meeting with Labour AM John Biggs

While earlier today I attended an excellent London regional committee meeting of UNISON Labour Link, this evening I’ve just come back from my first Labour Party meeting following the summer break.

We first had a short local ward business meeting (introductions, minutes, Councillor reports, Q&A - a very good debate on a Capital Stewardship motion) then had a joint meeting (North and South) with our sister Forest Gate ward with local London Assembly member John Biggs (City & East) as our guest speaker.

Despite all the “doom and gloom” put about by commentators and so-called “critical friends” about the state of the Party, this particular meeting was well attended, constructive and very positive. We had brand new Party members (one a UNISON trade union activist!) turn up and while we made jokes at the current problems facing the government I feel that there is in no way any sense that we are facing “utter disaster”. There are very difficult economic problems to face but it is just nonsensical to claim that all is lost.

John was “on form” and gave not only a lively speech but a thoughtful analysis of why Labour lost the London mayor elections, the current state of the Party, life under Boris and what we need to do in order to win next time.

For example John pointed out that we need to think why in a era of general rising prosperity in London (until recently) many voters who turned their backs on Labour felt left out of this prosperity, even though by most indicators their standard of living had indeed improved.

He warned us that Boris is by nature a very right wing Tory but he knows that London is on the whole quite a “moderate” electorate and therefore he will try to pretend he is something else.

Boris has said that he will review the “London Plan” and it is feared that he will redirect resources away from areas of extreme poverty and need into the Tory suburbs. Tory Council leaders on the night of the election were openly boasting that with the election of Boris “their time has come”.

Boris has promised to freeze the GLA Council tax contribution. Eventually this can only be paid for by reducing Police numbers, fire and transport services. But Labour needs to be mindful that for many of our traditional voters that Council tax increases are painful, especially if you are on a fixed income.

Boris has promised to do away with the infamous London “bendy buses”. Despite the fact that they are very efficient at transporting people into central London and back during rush hour. Instead of possibly redesigning “bendy buses” to take account of complaints (too crowded, too much fare evasion) Boris is going to scrap them and supposedly replace them with modern day Routemasters (the open door – jump on/jump off buses). This is not going to happen since no form of Routemasters will ever comply with disability access laws.

Boris has control now over planning and has declared that he will let London Councils build what they want to allow. The fear is that Tory boroughs will simply stop building homes for social housing. There are so many people in housing need in London, if this happens where will they live? Instead of affordable “homes for rent”, Boris wants “shared ownership” housing. However, the income needed to buy these homes he sets at about £50,000 per year. This is far out of reach for many Londoners.

I put a question to John that the Government should take back the investment powers over housing that the Mayor was recently given, since Boris has already proved himself incapable of exercising these powers properly (going against the advice of his professional planners etc). John, I suppose quite sensibly, pointed out that Boris was democratically elected and that we will just have to live with this fact for the next 4 years.

Finally, John pointed out that we should not underestimate Boris. To many non-political Londoners, he comes over as a “cheeky chappie”, witty and charming. Boris has a lot of goodwill at the moment. I think that John meant by this that Labour needs to build its organisation and work hard to win and not just rely on Boris pressing the self destruct button.

There again, with Boris, you never know, that might just happen!

Fingers and toes!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

“No Dividend Appropriation without Representation”

You don’t have to be raving loony left to get out of your tree at this recent report by the TUC “Pension Watch”.

They have found by examining the published accounts that the average top 100 directors of UK companies will look forward to a pension of £201,700 a year from pension pots that average £3 million each.

This is annual pensions, not salary.

The real issue is not just the size of these payments in itself (although many would disagree) to me the issue is that this is a stonking 25 times the average workplace pension that ordinary workers receive (£8,100 v. £201,700).

Not only that, while many large firms decide that they cannot “afford” to pay what is called “Defined Benefit” (or DB - pensions to its ordinary workers which are much less riskier and much fairer than the new “Defined Contribution” or DC), 76% of director schemes are still on safer “Defined Benefit” (DB)!

The shame gets even worse. Where you have directors on DC schemes, the top directors receive average pension contributions equivalent to 21% of their salaries, while the average for ordinary workers is only 6.5%. This unfairness is difficult (for me anyway) to really get your head around but remember that not only are the directors already paid far more than their average employees but the multiple that their pension contributions are paid is also far, far higher (unlike income tax?)

Finally, while we find that nearly all public and private pensions schemes for ordinary mortals now have a retirement age of 65, the majority of schemes allow directors to retire at 60!

This stinks! I can accept that there will always be in a capitalist society significant differentials in wages and benefits. But the scale of these differentials in pensions is just wrong and surely destructive. Do we really want to live in such a society where there is such blatant unfairness? Surely even those who do not believe in social justice will realise the drip, drip damage that such inequality will result in?

The irony is of course that the ordinary workers who get such a raw deal when compared to their directors are actually the real “owners” of these companies via their pensions and insurance policies. If these owners were able to exercise their rights of ownership would such abuses continue?

So do we need to dress up as native Indians, invade the London Stock exchange and then throw annual reports into Limehouse harbour under the call for “No Dividend Appropriation without Representation”?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

68th top “left of centre” blog

Found out that “John’s Labour blog” has come 68th in the top 100 of “left of centre” blogs as reported on Tory boy Iain Dale site.

These blogs were voted for by the readers of more than 75 UK political blogs and the readers of TOTAL POLITICS Magazine.

Each person voted for their top ten blogs. Their favourite was awarded ten points, their second favourite nine points and so on down to one point. 1,142 people cast a vote”.

Not sure whether this is good or bad? Being in the bottom 50 isn’t something to shout about I suppose, but it is surprisingly quite pleasing to read that some people have obviously found this blog interesting enough to vote for.

I didn’t actually vote in the poll but I suppose my top 10 would be:-

1. Labourhome (7th)
2. Dave Part (10th)
3. Labour & Capital (63rd)
4. Bloggers4Labour (21st)
5. Normblog (20th)
6. Harry Place (12th)
7. Hope Sen (2nd)
8. Rupa Haq (44th)
9. Luke’s blog (6th)
10. TIGMOO (not listed I think?)

However, to be frank, sad person that I am, I enjoy reading most blogs from time to time.

Congratulations to everyone, especially the top 3 Tom, Hopi and S&M!

This is the full list: -

1. Tom Harris MP2. Hopi Sen3. Stumbling & Mumbling4. Liberal Conspiracy5. Recess Monkey6. Luke Akehurst7. LabourHome8. Tom Watson MP9. Ministry of Truth10. Dave's Part11. Sadie's Tavern12. Harry's Place13. SNP Tactical Voting14. Socialist Unity15. Paul Linford16. Labour Outlook17. A Very Public Sociologist18. Obsolete19. Ordovicius20. Normblog21. Bloggers4Labour22. Theo's Blog23. Kezia Dugdale's Soapbox24. Beau Bo D'Or25. Bob Piper26. Forgesian Thinking27. The Daily (Maybe)28. Stuart King29. Lenin's Tomb30. Pickled Politics31. Never Trust a Hippy32. Chris Paul's Labour of Love33. Bloggerheads34. Chicken Yoghurt35. Bethan Jenkins AM36. Conor's Commentary37. John McDonnell MP38. Neil Clark39. Adam Price MP40. Snowflake541. Jane's the One42. Progress43. Two Doctors44. Rupa Huq45. The F Word46. Fat Man on a Keyboard47. Cynical Dragon48. Scots and Independent49. Byrne Baby Byrne50. Rachel North London51. Drink Soaked Trots52. Adam Smith was a Socialist53. Tory Troll54. Penny Red55. Kevin Maguire56. Nosemonkey's Eutopia57. Five Chinese Crackers58. Grimmer up North59. Guerilla Welsh Fare60. Welsh Ramblings61. Kerron Cross62. Three Score Years & Ten63. Labour and Capital64. Mars Hill65. Wheeler's Website66. Indygal67. Tartan Hero68. John's Labour Blog69. Charlie Beckett70. Ian Bone71. Another Green World72. Harpymarx73. Blog Menai74. Kerry McCarthy MP75. The Exile76. New Direction77. Lancaster Unity78. Modernity79. Organised Rage80. Madam Miaow Says...81. Calum Cashley82. Clairwil83. Councillor Terry Kelly84. Stroppy Blog85. Shiraz Socialist86. Labour Left Forum87. Amlwch to Magor88. Defend the NHS89. Jon's Union Blog90. Paul Flynn MP91. Scribo Ergo Sum92. Andrew Burns's Really Bad Blog93. Don Paskini94. Oliver Kamm95. Bid for Freedom96. Macuaid97. Reading Marx's Capital with David Harvey98. Sit Down Man99. Tygerland100. Jon Worth Euroblog