Wednesday, October 22, 2008

London UNISON Policy Day

Yesterday I attended our annual Policy day held in University of London Union (ULU). Its agenda may sound rather dry but this is the sort of thing that trade unions need to do more of, we spend too much time fire fighting and reacting rather than thinking, being reflective and foreward planning.

All Regional Council officers (including myself as Finance Convenor), chairs and vice chairs of lay committees, London NEC members and most full time staff are invited. Firstly, there was a review of our regional plan for 2008 and our objective and priorities for 2009. London currently has 127,000 UNISON members who are paying subs. We need to recruit 13% more members each year just to stand still.

There was a big debate over “Recruitment and Organising”, then before lunch we discussed “The Bargaining Agenda”. These involved future strategies around Pay, Pensions, building our profile in education, strategies for private contractors and companies, health and procurement. I’m glad to see that Capital Stewardship is being given the recognition that it deserves.

After lunch we had our first guest speaker, UNISON NEC member Bob Oram (seen in picture with London regional convenor Gloria Hanson, who chaired the meeting). Bob is chair of the UNISON Staffing committee and spoke on “Meeting the Organising Challenge”. UNISON is trying to deploy more staff out of regional and national offices to directly support branches with recruitment and case work. The aim is not just to recruit members but build a sustainable structure to support them. This is absolutely vital to the union’s future. Our union density levels in many employers are so low that we simply cannot function as a trade union. (I’ll post further on my “Plan B” as soon as the Scottish Local government pay strike is settled).

After lunch, a presentation and discussion on equalities, then a simply superb presentation by GMB regional secretary, Richard Ascough. Now, at times in the dim and distant past I never thought I would ever say anything positive about a senior official of the GMB! Richard talked about joint union working and gently teased the “elephant in the room” (is, should, will - UNISON merge with the GMB?). One theme he stressed again and again is that there are so many workers who are not members of unions that we should not be fighting or poaching from each other.

I gave my view that it is just a complete nonsense that we don't have single sector unions but these things are difficult to dare I say "organise", since rightly I suppose, members prize their unions independence, its local identity and historical traditions. But to survive we need to move on.

I helped end the meeting by boring everyone silly with a briefing on the “budget planning process”.

I then went to the Fair Pensions AGM, a meeting of “Struggle” (which I will love to post upon but can’t at the moment) at the House of Commons, then another event in Portcullis House - an absolutely fantastic Barking CLP “Young Voters” event sponsored by Margaret Hodge MP (and her team) and UNISON Labour Link which I will post about tomorrow.

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