Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Belles of Bow

I came across an advert for this historical walking tour organised by the Museum of London. I assume the walk will go past the “Lord Morpeth” Public House in Old Ford Road which is built on the site of what was a Toy factory set up by Sylvia Pankhurst (picture is from the old pub sign). This pub is a poplar venue for “leaving do’s” by local workers which I have frequented once or thrice (or more). I work from a office only about a 10 minutes walk away.

Nearby was the site of ex-public house called the “Gunmakers Arms” which Sylvia used as a crèche and soup kitchen for the local poor. She renamed it the “Mothers Arms”.

Check out this site for extracts of Sylvia’s journal.

Check out this link to the last time(s) I posted on Bow Belles.

Sun 8 Mar, 2.30-4.30pmThis walking tour with Blue Badge Guide Rachel Kolsky follows in the footsteps of Sylvia Pankhurst, who chose east London as the starting point for her campaign for women's suffrage. Pankhurst established a creche, restaurant and model toy factory in the area, believing that East End women were key to the success of the Suffragette movement. The route highlights Suffragette supporters and workplaces including the famous Bryant & May match factory, site of the Match Girls' strike of 1888.Book in advance £8, 18+

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Labour Minister, the Tory Cllr, the Barrister, the MBE, the NEC & the RCO v. One Housing Group

This is a report from last night’s public meeting in the Isle of Dogs, E14 which was in support of Debbie Cordrey, the local housing officer who was recently sacked by One Housing Group.

I should also add that around 100 local residents and UNISON members also turned up to support Debbie at the Barkantine Hall meeting.

It was definitely the most diverse panel of speakers I have ever spoke from - Local Labour MP and Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, spoke first (see picture of Jim and Debbie sharing a joke just before start of meeting - behind bloke in purple). He offered solidarity with Debbie and recalled how stressful it had been for him when he was a fire brigade union steward and had been issued formal warnings over his trade union activities. It was worse for Debbie since she had lost her job. Jim attacked One Housing Group for failing to honour their promise of a local resident led housing association. Also that they were still failing to provide a decent housing service to residents. Jim questioned why elsewhere in Tower Hamlets, Housing associations could be resident led yet still offer an excellent service? What is going on with One Housing Group?

Tower Hamlets Conservative Councillor Tim Archer (and prospective Tory parliamentary candidate against Jim at next election) spoke next in support of Debbie and attacked One Housing Group for failing to deliver for residents and failing to honour their promises over governance.

Martin Young, who is a Barrister and former local Labour Councillor (and Chair of East End Homes Housing Association – but tonight he was appearing in only in his personal capacity) reminded the audience how important is was for ordinary working people to join a good trade union like UNISON.

I spoke next (UNISON RCO and on behalf of the Housing Association Branch) and pointed out that I had worked with Debbie for years and that I did not believe the allegations against her nor did anyone who knows her. I also reminded everyone that while individual local housing officers and residents don’t always see “eye to eye” on all things all the time. If Housing associations treat their staff unfairly then you can bet your bottom dollar they will treat their residents unfairly as well! We have a common interest.

Local resident and former Barkantine chair, Sarah Castro MBE, spoke how she had been forced out of chairing the local resident’s board and how important it was that resident representatives are democratically elected. I will declare an interest that I use to work with Sarah and I think she is an absolute star (Unison member of course – and our favourite Spanish translator for Cuban trade union visitors). What on earth is One Housing Group problem?

The final panel speaker was UNISON NEC member John McDermott who came down from Leeds to speak in support of Debbie. John is a housing worker in a Leeds ALMO and is having his own problems with his management. He was facing a gross misconduct hearing today (I don’t know what happened – I will update when I hear). I don’t agree politically with John at all, but he gave a very good speech in support of his trade union “sister” Debbie. While he was attacking One Housing group I was pleased to see Tory Cllr Tim Archer nodding his head in agreement to much of what he said.

Debbie herself was the last speaker. She gave a very simple and moving speech thanking everyone for attending and for their support.

There were then a number of positive contributions from the floor. Local resident after local resident pledged support for Debbie. UNISON members from Newham and Havering were present to offer solidarity as was the Tower Hamlets NUT and the local GP’s representatives.

I met a lot of people at the meeting that I hadn’t seen in years. Including Debbie’s daughter who I had last seen with her Mum on the picket lines as a 10 year old in the month long Tower Hamlets Housing strike of 1999.

Debbie’s appeal against dismissal is on March 19th and the Chair of tonights meeting, John McLoughlin, announced that they may be organising transport and refreshments to hold at the same time a traditionally East End Beano outside the One Housing head office in Chalk Farm in support of Debbie.

Now, with my captain sensible regional head on I’m not exactly sure that this will be in reality all that good an idea but it seemed to go down very well on the night.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fair Deal on Redundancy

I’ve just emailed my MP to ask her to support the “Unions Together” campaign in support of the proposed bill to increase statutory redundancy pay.

Check out the link here to email your MP. You only need your post code and it took me 2 minutes. Forward the link to as many people as you can.

Many employers do pay above the statutory minimum but unless we get this increased then good employers run the risk of being under pressure to pay less. It would be a race to the bottom that we do not want to take part.

This is the request from Helen at Unions Together

"On Friday March 13th, Lindsay Hoyle MP will be putting forward a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons that would uprate the current level of statutory redundancy pay – the minimum that workers can expect to be paid if they are laid off. When it was first introduced, this was more than double the average weekly wage. But because it has not been increased with inflation, it is now worth only half of average pay. This is an important issue for working people, particularly in these turbulent economic times.

Because of the rules on Private Member’s Bills, we need enough MPs to turn up to support the Bill, or any MP who opposes it can just “talk out” the Bill, preventing it even getting to a vote. It is crucial that we ensure there are enough Labour MPs supporting the Bill in the House of Commons on March 13th so it can move forward. That’s where you can help – by writing to your MP and asking them to be in the House of Commons for the debate".

Join "Unions Together" facebook here

UPDATE: I got an email response from my MP Lyn Brown this morning and we will have a "talk" about this issue.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

“Housing - the hottest issue” - Nicky Gavron AM

UNISON Housing Association Branch Briefing.

Nicky spoke at our AGM last week and this is a copy of our press release.

Housing - the hottest issue” - Nicky Gavron AM

Nicky wants Boris to come clean over London Housing targets.

At last week’s AGM of UNISON Housing Association in the NUT HQ, Hamilton House, Guest speaker London Assembly member and Labour Housing spokesperson, Nicky Gavron, called on Mayor Boris Johnson to come clean about his 50,000 target for new affordable homes .

If Boris is determined to keep the 50,000 target he will only get anywhere near it by double-counting, smoke and mirrors and other creative means - not by significant numbers of new build or supply”.

Also at the meeting was UNISON National Housing officer Pete Challis who spoke on the “Housing Crisis” and warned that some financial institutions were classifying shared ownership loans as “Sub-Prime”.

The meeting was the last of 4 AGMs which had taken place across London to encourage participation of UNISON members (others took place at Family Mosaic, Notting Hill and East Thames Headquarters). Common key concerns expressed by members at these meetings were over health & safety of staff, funding for "Supporting People", job insecurity and below inflation pay rises.

Any further information please contact.

John Gray
UNISON HAB Communications Officer

“On the knocker” for Labour in Royal Docks

Tonight after work I joined a Newham Labour party canvass team which went out knocking doors and talking to residents about the Council by-election next month and our candidate Steve Brayshaw.

I managed to arrive on time for the briefing and we were soon sent out in various teams to cover the ward. My team went to the more traditional Labour heartlands in the ward which lie towards the Woolwich Ferry.

I thought that we had a good reception. I felt that people were pleased to be canvassed for their views. Even amongst those few who said they would not vote for Steve I felt that there was no real hostility to Labour. I didn’t see any opposition supporters at all in the ward.

We had 3 Newham Councillors with us in our team of 7 (which was a bit too large). Local Royal Docks Cllr Anthony McAlmont (and his son!), Cllr David Griffin and Cllr Amarjit Singh.

What I was really pleased about was the state of the housing stock which I believe is largely run by Newham Homes (the Council owned ALMO). The stock and the street seemed to be well maintained and cared for which is a credit to the residents and the housing staff.

The only problem we had that night was when Labour stalwart John Whitworth tried to hand over our vote ID returns to HQ and he had to fend off Steve’s dogs at the front door who were busy trying to lick him to death.

Support for Debbie Cordrey

This is from another leaflet about Debbie Cordrey. What is good to see is the message of support from the CEO of Tower Hamlets Community Housing.

This news was deeply shocking. I have known Debbie for quite some time now and she is not only a good officer but also someone who gives a lot back to the community, through various Community Groups
in Poplar that she is involved in; and by serving as a Resident Board Member at Poplar HARCA.

As a local resident, Debbie understands that we are here to serve residents, and she has a deserving high
reputation amongst those locals who have benefited greatly from her work in housing over the years.”

MIKE TYRRELL THCH Chief Executive, former Tower Hamlets Council Housing Manager”.

(Double click on picture to read if properly)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pensions for Posties and British Investment for British Workers

As a member nominated rep on a pension scheme I can understand why the Chair of the Post Office Pension scheme trustees “supported” the partial privatisation (or “partnership” according to Lord Mandelson) of the Post Office.

Since in return the Government would guarantee the scheme. So it is a “no brainer” for trustees since their absolute legal duty is to beneficiaries. If the government offered to guarantee any trust based pension scheme then you can understand why they would support this. Regardless of what the trustees themselves may feel about privatisation (or “partnership”).

I think that the Government should step in and guarantee the existing scheme. A major reason for any deficit is the contribution holidays taken under the Tories in the past by the Post Office when it was very clearly a public sector organisation. The scheme itself has been radically changed to make it much cheaper but there are rather daft accounting rules for such long term public sector schemes which base liability deficits on the barmy assumption on what would happen if everyone retired or died - tomorrow. The oft quoted £8-9 billion “deficit” is just a nonsensical and meaningless calculation. It is accepted that the Scheme does have funding problems but not to the extent suggested.

Leaving aside the pension question then of course the government should fund major investment into Post Office modernisation. Such “quantitative easing” is what the economy is crying out for. Investments in intensive capital programmes which actually improve efficiencies in the economy while also pumping money into it are desperately needed to avoid the threat of depression and deflation.

This is not a fight the Government should be having at this time with some of their core supporters. It is a distraction and potentially an own goal. There are other more important issues to pick fights over.

Whatever happened to joined up thinking?

Monday, February 23, 2009

TULO Parliamentary Reception for Claude Moraes MEP and Anne Fairweather

Just back from this TULO meeting at the House of Commons which was sponsored by Islington South & Finsbury MP, Emily Thornberry.

Emily is on the left of the photo addressing the meeting while Claude and Anne are standing on the right.

Claude is defending his seat with with fellow MEP Mary Honeyball. While Anne Fairweather is trying to be elected for the first time as a London MEP. Anne is in 3rd place in the Labour Party list for London (its a PR election). At the moment Labour holds 3 out of 9 MEPs but the number of London MEPs is decreasing at the June election to 8 (due to new countries joining the EU).

Claude spoke about the importance of ensuring that enough Labour MEPs are elected in order to help their fellow socialists in the European parliament continue to pass progressive policies such as the new rights for agency workers and ending the opt out from the Working Time Directive. Also they have passed much needed social legislation such as European Works Councils and the landmark proposal for an EU wide ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Labour MEPs are also fighting the threats to trade union collective agreements following the adverse legal judgments of Viking, Lavall & Ruffert.

The message is don’t let anyone (or any Tory tabloid) tell you that the elections in June are not important.

I had a chat afterwards with Claude and Emily about attending possible Worker Memorial Day (WMD) events. Which I will see if I can organise via TULO. While Anne accepted an invitation to help out in the Newham Royal Docks by-election.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

'Seasoned hay, tasty pastures, good beer, comfortable beds'.

Slightly off message. I’m just back after a walking weekend in the village of Stockbridge, Hampshire. The weather was excellent and on Saturday, Mrs Grayee and I walked alongside the glorious River Test and across country to the Hill Fort at Danebury (also very impressive) and then back to the village.

As we walked back to the hotel in Stockbridge we come across an old Drovers inn (see photo - now a private house with a traditional thatched roof). I was astonished to see in bold large letters right across the front of the building words in Welsh “GWAIR TYMHERUS - PORVA-FLASUSCWRW - CWRW DAA - GWAL CYSURUS”. These words were an early form of advertising dating back to when the inn catered for Welsh Drovers - the words translated as 'Seasoned hay, tasty pastures, good beer, comfortable beds'.

Stockbridge is a really pretty traditional English village where it seems like everyone you meet is polite, wears a Barber jacket and out walking with a friendly wet Labrador.

I was feeling just a little smug after our 8 mile odd tramp through the countryside. Yet for centuries some of my forefathers had walked from Wales to Hampshire (then onto Southampton or Surrey and back home again – 600 miles?) every year to bring Welsh black cattle to English markets. The cattle would have been fattened up on the local pastures and meadows after their long journey. Before the railways the Welsh had been cattle and sheep drovers to England (the first cowboys?) since at least the 13th Century.

Since the "Drover House" is no longer open I would nowadays recommend the “Grosvenor” Hotel (another Welsh connection?) for “comfortable beds” and the “Three Cups Inn” for tasty produce (if not pastures) and for sure - “good beer”. I am afraid that I cannot comment on the local “Seasonal Hay” but I am certain it is also very good.

Friday, February 20, 2009


I won’t have any access to the internet for the next few days. So apologies for any delay in responding to comments or approving new ones.

Reinstate Debbie Cordrey

Next Thursday I will be speaking at this public meeting in favour of housing worker Debbie Cordrey being reinstated into her job after being sacked by Island Homes (One Housing Group).

I have known Debbie personally for at least 14 years in my trade union capacity and as a work colleague. I simply do not accept the allegations made against her and I am convinced she is being treated unfairly.

It is probably the most diverse panel of speakers that I have ever spoken at. Which I think indicators the breath of support for Debbie. No-one else believes it either.

Even Chief Executives of other RSL’s are lining up to support Debbie.

There have been huge housing management and governance problems in “Island Homes” in the recent past. Sacking a junior supervisor (and a senior trade union rep as well as a respected community activist) seems completely unfair and disproportionate. This is the sort of thing that brings the wider sector into disrepute and explains why many have such poor opinions of the way certain RSLs are run.

RSL’s with good governance and a good housing management culture respect Residents and staff. They treat them fairly. They are the only ones that will survive and flourish in the long term.

My message to Island Homes is quite simply – please remember rule number one – if you are in a hole – Stop digging! Reinstate Debbie.

(Update - I've posted the reverse of the flyer as well)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Steve Brayshaw – Working for Royal Docks

Steve is the Labour Party candidate for the Royal Docks by-election in Newham. I have posted previously on it. This is a picture from his campaign website here with his pets!

He is a local resident and teaches in Newham College. He helped set up the area Neighbourhood watch, he chairs the Ward Police Panel, is a primary school governor and a trustee of a local charity.

You can email Steve at or text him on 07772 723 765.

Check out Steve’s “fresh look” at Royal Docks here.

Contact him also if you want to help out with the by-election. There are all sorts of daily campaigning activities you can take part in.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The New “Guilty Men”

(and women of course) This evening I went to a meeting of the Pension Investment Panel of my “Local Government Pension Scheme” (LGPS). I attend as a UNISON member nominated representative (MNR) alongside a GMB trade union rep.

At tonight’s meeting there was also the independent Chair, two Senior Council finance managers, two Labour Councillors and the pension fund investment advisor.

Our pension scheme is relatively small but still has over £618 millions of assets (31.12.08).

The main business of the panel was to hear a presentation by two of our fund managers about their recent performance and future expectations. I have served on this panel for about 14 years. As you can imagine such presentations are usually serious affairs but nowadays they are pretty fraught. Everyone is conscious that we live in “difficult times”.

After these presentations I asked each of the fund managers roughly the same question.

That we own shares in Banks and other financial institutions and that shareholders at AGM’s directly elect the directors of our financial institutions and agree the remuneration policies for executives. In view of the fact that it is widely accepted that these same directors and remuneration policies contributed to the present financial crisis who is really to blame for allowing this to happen and what is being done to stop such things occurring again?

I won’t post on their replies since there is an ongoing debate over whether such meetings are “restricted” or not. However, their replies were honest and well argued even if I did not agree with them.

My own view is that all of us “on watch” were to blame for striking this modern day economic ice berg - to a greater or less extent. Pension and insurance funds did not scrutinise and sufficiently challenge AGM decisions. We allowed Executives to be appointed who did not understand their business risks; we allowed others to be rewarded for short term performance regardless of staggering long term risk. The financial services industry, the regulators and various governments (national and international) also failed to do their bit.

Intellectually we allowed ourselves to be brow beaten into accepting the neo-liberal market model “warts and all”. However, power and influence was not fairly distributed in financial governance. Necessary checks and balances were also missing.

At the moment everyone is naturally focused on “fire fighting” the recession and the real risk of a depression. I believe that we will come out it (eventually) and then we must and shall make change.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Labour 2.0: Campaigning for the Net Generation

This should be interesting - Progress event for Saturday 28 February in central London. Book here


Opening address
Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP
Secretary of State for International Development

Keynote speech
Joe Rospars
New Media Director, Barack Obama's 2008 Presidential Campaign

What will the future of internet campaigning look like?
Professor Andrew Chadwick, Director, New Political Communication Unit, Royal Holloway, University of London
Greg Jackson, Tangent
Tom Steinberg, MySociety


Mobilising the centre-left blogging community
Adam Bienkow, Tory Troll
Tom Barry, Boris Watch
Theo Blackwell, blogger and councillor
Alex Smith, writer and political activist (chair)

Fundraising and voter ID online
Gavin Shuker, Political Insight
Jag Singh, MessageSpace

Learning from the private sector
Simon Redfern
Oliver Rickman, Google

Afternoon break

Transforming Labour’s campaigns and communications through new media
Nick Anstead, University of East Anglia
Matthew McGregor, UK MD, Blue State Digital
Sue Macmillan, New Media Campaigns Taskforce Leader, The Labour Party
Paul Simpson, Tangent

Close of conference debate:

Can the centre-left dominate the internet despite being in office?
James Crabtree, Senior Editor, Prospect
Derek Draper, LabourList
Rt Hon David Lammy MP
Tim Montgomerie, ConservativeHome


Monday, February 16, 2009

Tower Hamlets Mayor speaks to UNISON Labour Link AGM

At lunchtime today I was invited to speak at the AGM of Tower Hamlets UNISON Labour Link (APF) which took place at the Town Hall.

I use to be the UNISON Labour link branch officer for the branch for many years. I was asked to speak today by the current post holder Fazlul Chowdhury in my capacity as the London Labour Link Committee Joint vice-chair.

There are about 1,000 UNISON members in the branch who have chosen to pay the Labour Party political levy. UNISON is constitutionally a part of the Labour Party. In recent months I have come across more and more UNISON members who recognise how important it is that the Unions back the Labour Party. Things are never perfect in any “family” relationship and in the Labour Movement Family it is no different. But I think that the prospect of a “do nothing” and “recessions are good” Tory Government led by Old Etonions has concentrated minds. We must take a deep breath at times and remember the manta “The worse day under a Labour Government is better than best day in a Tory Government”.

The meeting went very well. The Labour mayor Councillor Muhammad Abdullah Salique spoke in his capacity as Mayor rather than as a Councillor. There was a really interesting Q&A.

I spoke about the importance of the June European Union Elections and how we must support Labour MEPs and stop the BNP from having any MEPs. Being a Newham Labour Party activist I also called for greater co-operation between Tower Hamlets and Newham Labour Parties. I asked if we could form a Tower Hamlets UNISON canvassing team to help out in the by-election in Royal Docks in Newham. This went down very well and hopefully such a team will be formed.

The meeting agreed to support mainstream centre left candidates in the UNISON Labour Link Forum and Conference elections (after I left to drive up to Hertfordshire to represent members facing redundancy). All in all a good meeting.

BTW - The Tower Block in the background of the photo is for any students of public housing history the famous Balfron Tower designed (and lived in for 2 months on the 26th floor) by Ernő Goldfinger.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Steve Brayshaw – Labour Candidate for Royal Docks By-Election in Newham

Yesterday afternoon after the Lyn Brown MP Constituency event I went to help out in the by-election in Royal Docks ward.

Fellow London UNISON Labour link activist Alan Griffiths and I drove down to Britannia Village where the Labour campaign HQ is located.

The Labour candidate is Steve Brayshaw, who lives in the ward and is a well known and respected community activist. Sadly, the last time I was in the village I was canvassing with Simon Tucker whose unexpected death has resulted in this by-election.

As I drove into the village I saw 3 Conservative canvassers looking a little lost and confused, apparently arguing between them on which way to go. I didn’t stop to give directions.

We spent the afternoon delivering letters to electors. I came across the leaflets put out on behalf of the Tory candidate, Neil Pearce. Neil is apparently the “editor” of his newsletter. He has a strange photo of him on the front page. Call me old fashioned but I’m not that sure that the “Vinnie Jones skin head” look is what is really going to appeal to the voters in Royal Docks?

I’m not going to be too smug since I know how difficult it is to get a decent leaflet out quickly. But promising to cut council tax if he is elected is perhaps a little ambitious. He seems to have forgotten that if he was elected (God forbid) he will still be only 1 out of 60 councillors. Also Newham has frozen the Council tax year this year and is in fact cheaper than any other outer London Borough including all the far more expensive Tory run boroughs.

Frankly I also don’t think that a leaflet that tries to totally rubbish your ward is all that helpful. There are problems in Royal Docks which need addressing. Trying to make out that the entire ward is some sort of deadly dangerous rubbish dump is not that productive. Keep up the good work mind Neil!

The only slight mishap of the day was when I came out of a block of flats (run by Guinness Trust – they seemed to be in pretty good nick) into the rear car park. The entry door shut behind me and it was only then I found out I was unable to get out. There was a FB 2 lock on the only gate and I hadn’t brought any FB keys with me. So, much to the amusement of local kids I had to climb a very high metal gate and swing myself across and climb down.

While walking back to the HQ with Royal Docks councillor, Pat Murphy, said “Don’t look now but the Tories are all inside that cafe drinking”. I of course immediately looked and saw a group enjoying a beer or three at a window table overlooking the bridge. I gave a friendly wave and I think it was Neil himself who waved back. Now, of course I have nothing whatsoever against canvassers of whatever persuasion enjoying a well earned bit of liquid refreshment after fighting the good fight – but at only 3.30 in the afternoon?

When there are leaflets to be delivered, doors to be knocked and gates to be climbed over!

I’ll hopefully post soon on how folk can help out Steve and Labour in Royal Docks.

London UNISON Capital Stewardship Network

A quick post about last week’s meeting of UNISON member nominated representatives (MNRs) who sit on the pension or investment committees of London Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS).

This network is supposed to meet every 3 months and our aim is to support MNRs and share best practice. I chaired the meeting. It can be quite tough at times if you are the only trade union representative on your local pension or investment committee. Especially when you want to question professional advisors or your fund managers.

We haven’t met for a while (my fault) but last week’s lunch time meeting was I think the best attended ever? We also had 3 new reps who have only just become MNRs.

We now have a “plan” (ish). At last week meeting we worked on a draft good governance charter for all London schemes. Which should set minimum standards for governance arrangements in all London LGPS’s?

On March 12 2-5pm there will be a regional briefing on the national LGPS governance campaign and the UNISON capital stewardship programme (see flyer). This will be presented by the UNISON National Officer on Capital Stewardship, Colin Meech. While we are also planning to hold a 2 day LGPS training course in London during April. Contact Paul Thompson at the regional office about attending the March 12 briefing.

There is still a lot to do – Some London schemes do not have any MNR’s at all, while in many cases it is hard pressed branch secretaries who are suppose to attend. Frankly I think they are too busy and what we really need is a small team of trained and properly supported MNR’s in each London LGPS. It works well in some schemes outside London.

From small acorns grow...

Some previous posts on related issues here, here, here, here

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Congratulations - Councillor Rohini Simbodyal!

Rohini is a member of Lyn Brown’s parliamentary team and has just been elected as a Councillor in the Jubliee ward in Enfield, North London.

What a terrific result! On Thursday she won back the seat for Labour with a stonking 297 majority and with over 50% of the vote.

She must be absolutely knackered but she turned up this morning to support Lyn at her NHS Constituency event . As we left to campaign in the Royal Docks by-election she was being interviewed by Dan McCurry for "Labourlist".

This is her stunning result.


Lyn Brown MP NHS Constituency meeting

This morning I went down to Southern Primary School in Plaistow to help Lyn and her Parliamentary staff with the latest Constituency meeting.

Lyn was there with local councillors, the Finance director of Newham PCT Satjit Singh and a medical “health MOT” team. A number of local party members also attended to help out.

I had my usual extremely important role as deputy chief tea and coffee maker (and principal biscuit eater).

Local residents had been invited by Lyn to attend and discuss the health service provision in the area. Residents were shown to tables and while they were waiting were offered the chance to have height, weight, blood pressure and blood sugar "MOT" tests as well as lifestyle and diet advice.

Lyn with a note taker and Satjit went from table to table. Listening into the conversations it would appear that residents are generally content with PCT services (Primary Care Trust – Newham General Hospital etc) but some local Newham GPs' ears should have been burning. The majority of GPs were clearly (I thought) highly respected.

By coincidence an old friend Sue had turned up to support a local resident who had formed a new support group in Newham for those who had suffered bereavement. It sounds like a really valuable and important initiative which I will post on further when I get details. Her husband George was a good friend and comrade who died tragically in 2007. It is inspiring (but in character) that she has used her experiences to want to help others.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Housing Association Branch AGM(s)

I’ve made it so far – only half way through my branch AGM(s) season.

We organise across Greater London so we have four separate meetings across London to enable participation.

The first meeting was on Tuesday at the Family Mosaic HQ near London Bridge (see picture) and the second was held at the Notting Hill HQ in Hammersmith.

Only two more to go – one at East Thames at Stratford and the other will be held in Central London at Hamilton House, WC1.

Check out the HAB website for further details.

I’ve really enjoyed going to these meetings. The meetings themselves (so far!) are very constructive and deal with real trade union issues. Unlike the stuff and nonsense I have come across in the past.

As well as the usual AGM business we discussed concerns about health & safety; pay claims; pensions; changes to "Supporting People" funding and personal data protection (amongst other things) and it makes me realise how much housing association bodies have in common. We all have very similar problems.

The long term solution to many of our problems is increasing membership density and building an effective internal steward and safety rep structure.

So - Yes , we can. Please join UNISON now! (well, everyone else is using this)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Council By-Election in Royal Docks Ward Newham

I’ve just heard that following the very sad and unexpected death of Labour Councillor Simon Tucker, a by-election will now be held on Thursday 26 March 2009.

This is the first by-election in Newham for many years.

It should be a straight Labour v. Tory fight.

I think the ward is picking a candidate tonight? Busy 6 weeks ahead. All hands to the pump and all that...

“Managers face losing their homes” over Health & Safety fines?

I have posted recently on “Directors face Porridge over ‘elf & Safety” here. But I was surprised to find out for the first time here that the new Health & Safety Offenses Act not only increased the range of offences that could result in imprisonment but also that the much heavier fines that are now in place “must be paid personally and cannot lawfully be paid by the employer under an indemnity or by insurers”. I didn’t realise this. The maximum fines in magistrate Courts are now £20,000 per offence. Crown Courts remain unlimited. Often offenders are charged with more than one offence.

I fully support this in principal because I have come across managers in the past who have made it clear that they consider health & safety failures are the companies’ liability not their personal concern. They were just not interested and considered other issues more important.

When I mentioned the personal liability for fines to a very experienced UNISON rep she admitted that was also unaware of this but she responded by saying “that means managers risk losing their own homes”.

Which I hadn’t thought of before and is of course true and in public services this will also mean that the managers will also probably be UNISON members as well. We need to get the message over that Health & Safety issues are vital and an absolute priority. It should not be ignored or sidelined. Often (not always) junior managers are pressured by more senior management to take risks with staff safety and not fully comply with the law. This must stop and at all levels everyone should realise the consequences of failing to protect those you have a duty of care to look after.

Of course, working in public housing, I am a firm believer in the philosophy that if it can go wrong – eventually - it will.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Aussie fire-fighter heroes who put themselves in harms way

Anyone who has seen the TV pictures from the ongoing tragedy in Victoria would be horrified at the stories of those who fled and narrowly saved their lives.

This is a fitting trade union tribute here about those who race towards danger on the public’s behalf.

Statement by David Carey State Public service union leader - Australia. Victoria Fire Tragedy

We are humbled by the dedication of our public sector colleagues in the face Victoria's tragedy.Working through extremes, that would be unimaginable in most of our working lives, our friends and colleagues and public workers are working to save, protect and preserve vital public services.

Fighting the terror of the fires.They are working to heal and counsel the injured and bereaved. They are feeding and clothing the people who are displaced. They are housing thousands who have lost homes.

They are being literal hero's - there is no other word- in the face of horror and trauma on a scale never seen in Australia. Our movement , the trade union movement, tens of thousands of other public sector workers and the whole community thank you and praise you.You are emblems of the selflessness and community we aspire to be.

"We are with you, in our prayers for your safety, our hope for your recovery. You are making unbelievable sacrifices and our certain knowledge is by your deeds our faith in human decency is again proved. While many public workers have suffered the worst possible personal loss themselves they work on.

You are our colleagues and friends. We hope our thoughts for you are some comfort.

"David Carey
Federal Secretary
On behalf of State Public Services Federation
120 000 state public sector workers - Australia wide (Hat-tip to Col Roi)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The CSV are revolting – Lefty Girl tells it as it is

Health Warning - This is an internal UNISON thingy!

I forgot to subscribe to the Leftygirlblog RSS feed (now done). She does not blog all that often but when she does it is always pretty good stuff.

Today I had a look and I hope that some of my UNISON local government comrades will also take a punt and see what many in the Community and Voluntary Sector (CSV) think about proposed changes to UNISON structures (and about some - repeat some - of those who oppose fundamental change).

Even if one or two of the "usual suspects" now claims to have changed their ways! (hmm).

At the first of my Housing Association branch AGM's tonight in London it was clear that Leftygirl is not the only one frustrated by the present situation and the likely opposition to change.

While not quite totally sharing the pessimism about the prospect of any likely changes I am convinced that we either evolve or we will eventually die.

We desperately need to change and update UNISON structures in order to support and properly represent our members. Times have moved on.

Monday, February 09, 2009

"in all my time in the army I have never been issued with so much equipment and of such good quality"

There has been criticism of the Ministry of Defence and the Government for providing inadequate equipment and support to British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of it I have no doubt was justified much of it was not.

It is therefore interesting to see this report below from Ipswich Labour Councillor and blogger Alasdair Ross as he prepares for his deployment with 2 Rifles to Afghanistan later this year.

Alasdair left the regular Army as a Sergeant Major in 2002 after 24 years service with the Royal Green Jackets. He has been granted leave of absence from the Council for his tour. Check out here.

"Not blogged for a while as I have been involved in pre Afghanistan deployment training- training for a hot summer in Afghanistan with a freezing two weeks in Wiltshire!

But today in Northern Ireland we were issued our desert clothing and equipment. The reason I mention this is that there has been much criticism in certain papers about the lack of equipment our troops are issued with.

Well in all my time in the army I have never been issued with so much equipment and of such good quality.

Of course our troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan deserve the best equipment but the papers (and the Tories) should say well done when the MOD and the Government get it right".

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Socialist Unity "apologises" to Police

This is probably the most utterly bizarre story of the year.


On 25 June 2008 we published a posting, by Andy Newman, entitled “J’accuse! — the Dreyfus Affair”.

This posting included a copy of a letter Mr George Galloway MP had sent to the RT Hon Jacqui Smith the Home Secretary, identifying Inspector Christopher Dreyfus as an agent provocateur at an anti-war demonstration in Parliament Square on 15 June 2008.

Mr Galloway said that he had observed Inspector Dreyfus commit various crimes, including incitement to violence, attempted assault on a police officer and several serious public order offences. He called upon the Home Secretary to conduct an inquiry into Inspector Dreyfus’ behaviour. Our posting called upon readers to comment on Mr Galloway’s letter. We made clear that Inspector Dreyfus denied the allegations.

We understand that, as a result of Mr Galloway’s letter, the matter has been comprehensively investigated by the British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police, and that their findings have been reviewed by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The investigations did not substantiate Ms Whittaker-Khan’s story or the allegations in Mr Galloway’s letter. The CPS has confirmed that there is no case to answer.

We now accept that Christopher Dreyfus was not present at the demonstration and did not engage in any of the criminal behaviour referred to in Ms Whittaker-Khan’s story or Mr Galloway’s letter.

We apologize to him for the damage caused to his reputation.

No Comments

Harry’s Place has the full details on how seriously weird this story is – I thought at the time that the alternative universe that Galloway lives in must be cracking up. To make such an accusation against a high profile Gay Police officer with a Jewish sounding name without any “proof” was just bonkers. The Police Officer denies being at the demo. The only “evidence” was a "Mail On Sunday" (for crying out loud) journalist who thought a violent protester was this Transport Police inspector she had met previously at a party in Bedford. Didn't anyone have the wit to think about how historically loaded the name "Dreyfus" is or google his full name beforehand? A secret Policeman or what!

Now Socialist Unity and I don’t usually see eye to eye on many things but I hope that they are not being sued. They have apologised and perhaps that should be the end of the matter except not to trust the "Gorgeous One" in the future.

They all learn eventually.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

New Dawn in America - Obama on Unions (and the UK?)

Brian posted a comment here about Obama and the US trade unions. I also got an email from a US trade union colleague with the full speech made by President Obama here.

Obama signed an executive order and said...

I also believe that we have to reverse many of the policies towards organized labor that we've seen these last eight years, policies with which I've sharply disagreed.

I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me its part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. We know that strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant and growing businesses.

This isn't a either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and has never been a zero-sum game. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country”.

Powerful stuff - I am now waiting patiently for Lord Mandelson to make similar announcements to the British people and for the Daily Mail to demand the return of the “closed shop” in the interests of British Business.

Seriously, the big issue is about balance – a level playing field for workers and unions. Things have been much, much tougher for US unions than British. But we still have a similar problem as in the States. Crudely put, management have too much power and unions not enough. Many executives, managers and HR (not all by any means of course) will use this discrepancy to exploit workers. It’s “what happens” in real life. I can accept that unions need to modernise and change as well.

But you actually end up with more conflict, more confrontation and more damaging mistrust and inequality in companies that do not recognise and value trade unions. In the long run (and even the short) this is bad for all businesses, bad for their bottom line and bad for the workforce.

We will always argue about what the balance should actually be – but the present arrangements are clearly still unfair and unequal.

Obama also appears to be suggesting that current crisis has been caused in part by this inequality (yep).

So the future of capitalism is dependent upon strong vibrant trade unions. Discuss?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Petition to set a maximum temperature at the workplace

Last night I posted on the TUC model Policy on “Bad Weather”. So it is only fitting that I now post on the not so topical but very important campaign by the TUC and UNISON for the introduction of a maximum legal temperature for workers.

There was apparently some discussion about this issue at the “Warwick” discussions last year. Many unions are supporting this No. 10 petition on this same issue (see below).

Around 8 years ago I called in and managed to persuade a HSE officer to serve an improvement notice on my employer over excessive temperatures and ventilation in a new office building. The conditions were really horrible. The building had originally been designed to be cooled with A/C. But they ran out of money and built it without the A/C (with none opening windows etc). After the notice they did retrofit A/C at a huge cost. A number of members did sue afterwards for “sick building syndrome”. There was a settlement before it came to court.

If we had a “maximum temperature” they would have had to build the place with A/C and saved themselves money and our members becoming sick. Health & Safety is all about being proactive rather than reactive. Let’s also have a bit of "joined up thinking"?

This is from the “further details” section of the petition which was set up by Robert Edmunds of the Welsh Assembly government (branch?) Robert Edmunds. To sign please click here.

The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 requires the temperature in workroom to be at least 16 degrees Celsius unless much of the work involves severe physical effort in which case the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius.

This is all well and good when it is cold during the winter months, however it is now June and I am currently working in an office which reaches 94 degrees Fahrenheit on a daily basis and nothing is being done to ease the suffering incurred by myself and my colleagues.

We have written countless letters to the Welsh Assembly Government over the last six years, informing them of our discomfort, but just been given one excuse after another.

Warm temperatures in offices make people very ill, especially if they suffer from claustrophobia or asthma. I wonder how the Welsh Assembly Government would feel if one or more of its employees fainted from heat exhaustion and injured themselves. It would cost more to pay a compensation claim than to purchase a simple air conditioning unit.

Please support this worthy cause. Again, click here and sign – it takes less than 5 minutes. Just remember how really horrible your workplace can be in very hot weather.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Workers should not have to foot the bill for bad weather conditions, says TUC

The TUC has issued here a model "bad weather" policy for companies to adopt so that workers are not penalised for not being able to get to work due to the appalling weather we have experienced lately.

In an organised branch you may be able to improve on this. This is good benchmark to negotiate on.

"During bad weather or when there are severe transport disruptions, staff may have difficulties getting to work or returning home.

Staff should make every effort to attend work in all circumstances. However, (insert employers name) is committed to protecting staff health and safety and does not expect staff to put themselves at risk when trying to attend work.

Staff should use their judgement. Take heed of any travel warnings and do not travel if advised not to. If you judge that weather conditions or transport problems make it impossible for you to get to work, you should contact your (insert designated contact Head of Department/line manager/ etc) as soon as possible to tell them about the problem.

Your manager will make a judgement on whether: you will be allowed to come in late; or
you will be allowed to work from home; or if your job can't be done at home, you will be allowed not to come in without suffering any loss of pay or annual leave.

If you are advised to come in late, you will be allowed to claim your normal working hours. If your line manager is not available, try to speak to someone else in the workplace. Failing that, please leave a voice mail message for your manager, including a contact telephone number. Your manager will then ring you back to advise you what to do.

If you need to leave work early because of bad weather or severe disruption to transport services, you will need to discuss this first with your line manager or another manager, and depending on the circumstances you will be allowed to claim your normal working hours.

(Insert employer's name) will ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its staff.

You also have a duty to take reasonable care, including taking extra care when travelling to and from work in bad weather".

Jewish Londoners - Sunday 15 February

I got this via SERTUC. Not often they send stuff out about events that has been sponsored by the City of London!

No doubt it’s down to that pesky Peter Mandelson.

Should be an interesting day mind.

In City hall before Christmas there was a very good historical exhibition (now finished) of postcards about the Jewish community.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Obama to Cap Executive Pay?

If true “happy times”. Tom P has posted here on a report in the New York Times that President Obama is going to impose a cap of “only” $500,000 on the total salary of CEO’s whose companies receive large amounts of bail out money.

Good news! I assume that the same will happen here? Since surely we want to make our own markets “competitive” with the US?

This is still an absolutely huge amount of money for one person to “earn”.

Maybe this should a realistic earning ceiling for all companies? This should only be for exceptional performance. Ordinary shareholders (pension trustees and insurance policy holders) must be allowed to vote on CEO maximum remuneration packages.

This could result in a fairer and more equal society. The real end of history?

This is a 97.5% reduction I think for some (from $20 million). It is also roughly what the top CEO’s of British housing associations get (£327,000). A rethink here will also be in order?

TSA - is there anyone listening?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Putting Loan Sharks behind Bars

I came across this really excellent leaflet from Tower Hamlets Council Trading Standards while trying to put together a “financial inclusion” pack for all new residents.

Quite rightly progressives of all shapes and sizes get very “full on” about the serious issues of child poverty, crime and social exclusion. The community destroying and leaching activities of unauthorised loan sharks who prey on the poor and desperate is sometimes overlooked. We have comptletely vile gangsters who terrorise the vulnerable for debt repayment in many inner city estates and who do deserve long imprisonment for their crimes.

I am pleased that the local Council is trying to do something about them. Yes, send ‘em down, every one of them! But do not forget the far more widespread and “legal” culprits - the "door to door" collectors and the high street money shops.

They may not break your legs but they will charge up to 1845% pa (I say again if you think you have misread this – 1845% per annum! - Payday loans website - can you believe it this has gone up from January 2008 when it was “only” 1330% pa) for credit. The current Bank of England bank rate is 1.5%.

How can we tackle poverty when our very poorest estates pay this sort of money for credit? Credit unions and good consumer advice are key but the Government needs to outlaw such usury. There is no excuse for such interest rates. There should be a maximum rate for all personal loans.

Monday, February 02, 2009

London UNISON AGM cancelled

Just heard the news – looking out of the window it’s no great surprise. Shame – I was looking forward to it!

UPDATE: I am truly amazed. Some dimwits have been complaining apparently about the cancellation- they forget (or don’t care?) that the NHS in London has been on major alert until stood down late yesterday. They then have to catch with the backlog today (4.2.09) and would not be able to attend the AGM. Most London schools have been closed Monday and Tuesday so parents and members have had to take the 2 days off.

To expect them to then ask for time off the attend an AGM is frankly ludicrous . Not everyone has full release agreed by Labour councils. The vast majority of RC delegates I am sure are very supportive of this sensible and pragmatic decision.

Don’t mention the Unions

While waiting at home for British Gas to turn up, I’ve tried to catch up on some reading. I came across this article in this weeks’ “Inside Housing” and have fired off this email to the Editor.

Dear Editor

I am somewhat amazed that in the otherwise informative article “Prepare for the Worse” (
Inside Housing 30 January 2009 - threat of redundancies), there was no mention of trade unions? Expecting employees to suddenly become employment rights experts, to challenge selection procedures and to carry out their own appeals is not realistic.

Solicitors are usually not allowed to represent people during any internal proceedings so waiting until after you have been sacked to ask for advice is not the best approach. Union members also do not have to pay solicitors for employment law advice.

I think that in the best of times you should join a trade union but in this really difficult period the best approach to safeguarding your job is a trade union application form.

People spend a fortune insuring their cars but don’t spend a few quid per week insuring their livelihoods.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

European Jobs and British Workers

I was for my sins at the Labour Party conference in 2007 as the London delegate for London UNISON Labour Link. I posted here fairly positively on Brown conference speech at the time.

I agree with commentators since that his reference to “British Jobs for British Workers” has been taken completely out of context. While at the time I thought it was unwise since it did leave him open for attack by such issues as the wildcat strikes at the Lindsey oil refinery.

I actually think there are different issues going on with very different solutions.

The strikes at Lindsey and elsewhere are a local reaction to the increased threat of unemployment. Organised workers are using effective tactics to win access to paid work. I don’t think it is inherently driven by any real racist sentiment but this will have to be handled carefully, not least because the local BNP will be sticking their snouts into things and trying to stir.

The real political issue is that for years the EU had been broadly “worker friendly” and a great number of progressive policies have been brought in via Europe. Recently there have been setbacks and EU court rulings that potentially undermine national wage rates and terms and conditions. It is these rulings that need to be challenged by the government urgently.

Naked protectionism would be a disaster – I have close family and friends who work in Spain, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, France and Belgian. 2 million Brits work and live in Europe more than twice as many as EU workers over here.

I don’t personally know if the present disputes are down to exploitative European management who are bringing in cheap undercutting labour or is it due to greedy and/or incompetent British companies who badly mispriced a tender? The issue is clearly a dispute with management not the European workers themselves.

Hat-tip thingy to Ian about the campaign and petition against “social dumping”.