Wednesday, September 30, 2009

John on Gordon’s Speech – a public housing perspective

Inside Housing has uploaded a vox pop video interview here of me yesterday on my reaction as a delegate with a housing background to Gordon’s speech.

This was just after the end of the speech and while I was waiting for the Communities Policy Seminar to begin.

I’ll try and get a copy and post on YouTube.

Wednesday morning: £, rules change, equalities and health

The day started off with an upbeat Jack Dromey giving a finance report. The Party is in a much better financial shape than I thought. There was a welcome commitment that “give to win” donations during the next several months will only be used for the General election campaign and not to pay off existing debts.

Next there was a bit of excitement and even almost a bun fight over proposed rule changes.

Followed by a very good debate on Equalities. Harriet Harman gave a cracking speech rightly promoting Labour as the Party of Equality and bashing both Tories and the Sun (which has typically come out with some silly and negative coverage of the conference).

The Health debate had a number of positive CLP and trade union contributions. Health Secretary Andy Burnham announced the removal of parking costs at hospitals for inpatients. Great news - this is the Party doing the right thing both morally and politically.

Labour blogger Luke Akehurst (on the left for a change – of the picture I mean) who has been seriously ill spoke movingly of his NHS treatment and his thanks not only for the doctors and nurses but also the hospital cleaners, the cooks and the drivers. He pointed out that he and his fellow patients got their treatment “because they needed it not because they could afford it”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Million Voices for Public Services

UNISON launched their “Million Voices” campaign at the Labour Party conference.

All delegates should visit the UNISON stall and sign up to support.

Picture includes Barking and Dagenham Schools crossing officer, Louise Couling (aka Lollypop lady)

Live twittering on Gordon's speech

This is live from the Labour Party conference floor. Waiting for the "big event" - the speech of Prime Minister Gordon Brown to conference.

People are still rushing around trying to get to their seats, there is loud lively music (Levellers "Beautiful Day"). I am with Rachel from West Ham delegation. Charlene the other delegate is sitting with Sarah Brown.

I am going to try and tweet for the first time. Not the best time to start but I have been inspired by last nights "Twinge"" (twitter at the fringe).

Check out "grayee" at #Lab09. Here goes....

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Economy - first time speaker at conference

"Chair, conference - John Gray, Proud to be a West Ham Labour Party delegate – Proud to be a UNISON activist and one of their million voices.

Conference, I’m Proud that West Ham is the birthplace of the Labour Party. Proud that in our London borough of Newham we this year increased the Labour vote during the European elections. Proud that Newham is the home of the biggest share of the vote for Labour in the entire Country.

Conference - I have two related contributions to make towards the debate on the economy. Firstly to remind people that it was our Labour government that stood up to the massive and unknown problems of the recent financial crisis and the government took enormous and unprecedented risks to save us from a most savage depression. We need to remember this and be proud of our achievements so far. We need to remind everyone that at this time of national crisis - our opponents, the Tories and their friends in the media were attacking the government - attacking and undermining - with only “Do Nothing alternatives.

Conference – can you just imagine what the state of our country would now be if Cameron and Osborne, these “Champagne Charlie’s” had been in charge?

Secondly conference - and this is why I am still convinced that we will win the next general election - at the end of the day it will be “its the economy stupid” that will decide the election and we have the economic talents and competency and the Tories do not. We must never ever forget that the financial crisis was caused by market failure which can only be cured more Government intervention, better ownership by collective share owners, more regulation - to which the Tories remain ideologically opposed.

Conference - of course we can’t take anything for granted and we are in a hard place but we must have the self belief that we have got the right economic fundamentals and the Tories have simply got it wrong.

After all conference never forget “Gordon did save the world

The Blair Project

I am sure that others are using this post title about Peter Mandelson’s speech to conference and its reaction to it.

This was the speech of his life (and at the end you could see he knew it). There are standing ovations and standing ovations. This one was for real.

He cheekily referred to the famous quotation by Tony Blair that he would know when his New Labour project successful when the Labour Party learned to love Peter Mandelson.

Mandelson touched all the right conference buttons. Initial feedback from back home and from folk out of the conference bubble and in living in a real world agree. Apart from the great showmanship the New New Labour apparent change of approach towards supporting and defending UK manufacturing went down very well with conference. In particular the trade unions. This is “clear red water” between the Tories which is not only popular politics but it exposes the real ideological gulf between them and us on the role of the market.

I think you have to watch the whole speech “to get it”. Check it out on YouTube

Social Housing and life chances

Day 2 (Monday) of conference started at 8am at a housing fringe put on by Fabians. It was chaired by Gail Cartmail, assistant General Secretary of Unite. By co-incidence Gail spoke before me to conference on the Economy (more of that to follow).

The main speaker was Housing & Planning meeting Minister John Healey together with James Gregory (Fabians) and Tony Hawkhead (CEO Groundwork). The meeting was supposed to me under “Chatham House rules”. However the Minister announced with media present that in his experience there is no such thing as “off the record” so he was quite happy to be quoted. I'm not sure about the other speakers or guests?

His most significant comment was his clear put down of a suggestion that any new government would have to make massive cuts in the housing budget. He said that this would happen if the Tories came in but not under Labour. In fact capital spending will rise undeer Labour. Housing will have to fight hard to justify their funding but it is wrong to suggest that there is not a choice.

Some other interesting stuff that the Minister said was how the Tories now call public housing “barracks for the Poor” and how frustrating it can be deal with journalists who obviously never actually been on a Council Estate. The importance of creating real mixed communities of rich and poor living together, local decision making and accountability. Housing policy should not be separate from leisure or environment policies.

I asked a question regarding the total supply of housing. The government has done a lot of good things in housing and there are always better ways of doing things but there are 4 million on council waiting lists. As a housing officer I see overcrowded families and wonder how kids can do their homework when they have nowhere to work. Current plans will not address this. There were a number of thoughtful responses.

At the end of the fringe I “nobbled” John (as you do at these things) and he agreed to attend a future UNISON Labour Link Housing association branch event I am organising and speak on Housing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dinner with London Labour MEP Mary Honeyball.

Next was a dinner with MEP Mary Honeyball. Every year Mary hosts a dinner for London CLP delegates to discuss European issues. Mary is of course also a European Parliamentary blogger (see The Honeyball Buzz).

The meal was very pleasant and informative. The West Ham delegation was sat next to East London comrades from Barking & Dagenham and Hornchurch.

Check out Mary’s report on the dinner.

Afterwards Newham visitors and delegates including West Ham MP Lyn Brown and Sir Robin Wales met up for a sherbet or two at the Grand Hotel which was absolutely packed. Sunday merged into Monday.

Newham Fringe

After TULO we then dashed off to the Newham fringe event. This was a “round table” informal discussion on regeneration and development issues. We had got the times wrong so we missed most of it.

Anyway – any excuse for another photo! Left to right – Cllr Unmesh Desai, Cllr Alec Kellaway, Sir Robin Wales – elected Newham Mayor, Alan Griffiths (UNISON), Stephen Timms East Ham MP, Charlene McLean (West Ham), Lord Victor Adebowale, Rachel Tripp (West Ham), Moi.

TULO reception - the union movement at the "Heart of Labour"

Straight after the conference all the West Ham delegation went off to the TULO (Labour Party affiliated trade unions and Trade union MPs) reception in the Hilton hotel.

We were not sure which room it was in - so when we saw Paul Kenny (GMB General Secretary) we decided to follow him. He led us to the wrong room but eventually we all found the right one.

The enviable surprise guest was of course Gordon Brown. What I found interesting is that in the speeches beforehand I thought the “mood music” by the union General Secretaries I heard about the Labour government has changed. There was pretty whole hearted and positive enthusiasm for the Government and Labour. There are still “problems” but there does seem to be a much, much better appreciation of Labour than previously.

I don’t think this is just because there is a General Election in the offering. Is the Mandy magic working?

Operation Fight Back

I arrived at the end of Ed Miliband MP speech during the “General Election campaign” report but “Operation Fight back” is obviously on course.

Ed was followed by the co-ordinator Douglas Alexander MP. He noted the success that Hasting Labour Party had enjoyed by contacting a massive 16,000 voters. The national Party has done twice as well on voter contacts as last year.

Also that the Tories membership is down by 40,000 since Cameron took over as leader. He is still convinced that we can out organise and then out poll the Tories with 3 approaches.

1.Direct contact with public and earn the right for their support
2. Personal communication
3. Be rooted and reflect local communities.

He argued that new media is not so much a new medium but empowers traditional electioneering processes. For example “Virtual phone banks” get people to ring at home for the Party who simply would not do otherwise.

The General Secretary Ray Collins started his annual report to conference by promising that he has never knowingly kissed a Tory!

Conference finished with a “Candidates fighting to win presentation” which featured the Prime Minister amongst a backdrop of young Labour Prospective Parliamentary candidates. I thought this was quite clever but some “mature” delegates were complaining that this was ageist!

I thought that Gordon’s first speech and Q&A to conference was confident, comfortable and measured. A key theme seems to be to compare and contrast the Labour way of dealing with recession with that of Tories.

I will post next on the various fringes and events. Posting will be a little erratic not least that I hope to make a speech tomorrow.

Labour Party Conference 2009 Sunday 27th September

It must be true that the sun shines on the righteous since the 2009 Labour Party conference opened this afternoon amidst glorious blue skies and bright warm sunshine.

Due to massive traffic jams I was late and by the time I checked into my hotel and made my way to the conference I had missed the beginning. Luckily my two fellow West Ham CLP delegates Rachel Tripp and Charlene McLean were far more organised than me and had attended the London Labour regional briefing and voted on the contemporary priorities ballot (we voted for Beating the BNP, Housing, Royal Mail post office and School meals).

I am in row A on the far left (of course) of the floor. If you are a delegate come over and say hello.

I hope to post on the main debates, exhibitions and fringe events. If I can work out how to do it I will twitter live from the conference floor.

Housing Matters 27 September 2009

I’m rushing off to the Labour Party conference so I’ll just note the main story in the public housing news this week.

Which is again on Housing Association Executive pay.

Following last week’s disclosure that the chief of Anchor Trust pocketed nearly £400,000 we found that the Trust also lost £35 million during the period.

Payment for failure? CEO’s pay has gone up 32% in five years while staff wages have only gone up by 11%.

I feel that a question or two to government ministers about this will come up at the conference housing fringes.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Consultation on LGPS Governance Reform.

These comments below are part of my response to a CLG consultation on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) governance arrangements.

It does appear to be a little boring but we are talking about managing over £100 billion and the pensions of over 3 million people.

The two main National UNISON arguments are:-

"Ministers must introduce the full requirements of Articles 8 and 18 of the EU Directive 41/2003 Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (There should be separate accounting from employer and funds should always act in the beneficiaries interests)

Ministers should replace that the voluntary exercise of improving member representation by a ‘Best Practice Guidance’ with statutory scheme member representation" (The voluntary approach to good governance has failed and we need proper statutory guidance)

All UNISON Local Government branches are encouraged to reply by 30th Sept.

I've added "There have been welcome improvements in member representation in the London LGPS but there is still a very long way to go. There are still far too many London funds that do not have any form of member nominated representation; some funds still treat them as observers who have no formal rights at all. None of the London funds meet the best practice standards found elsewhere in the LGPS “family” (e.g. Environment agency).

Some funds are still refusing to allow any form of democratic member representation. One London LGPS recently refused to allow even an observer on its pension panel since the proposed nominee had not previously served on a panel and therefore had “nothing to offer the panel”. While others just simply refuse to respond properly to our requests.

This is wrong since this is LGPS member’s money not the employers - it is their direct contributions and deferred pay. If it is accepted as a very positive thing that there is effective member representation in the private sector funded schemes then why are we in the LGPS being treated so differently?

There is no effective regulatory guidance on representation or competency. Some schemes have never provided any structured training for lay or elected members despite the fact they are legally responsible for overseeing hundreds of millions of pounds. An occasional briefing by a scheme advisor is not enough.

There is a lack of any firm guidance on facility time for employees to be representatives. Therefore it is often very difficult to get time off to be trained or attend meetings and to properly prepare. This adds to the difficulty of recruiting and retaining active member nominated representatives.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Why Councils must ban the Daily Mail"

The (other) Taxpayer Alliance have posted here on the absolute outrage of Peterborough Council staff looking up the Daily Hate (sic Mail) from Council computers. The said Daily Mail (sic Hate) was the seventh most popular web site visited by staff. Facebook was 10th.

Why is Council taxpayer’s money being wasted allowing staff to access this Daily Hypocrite?

Surely we must ban this Daily Bile up and down the country to stop this complete shocking waste of scarce public funds.

Counselling and therapy for staff found to have been looking at the site must be offered immediately.

(Guest Post by Disgusted from Forest Gate)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Total Place or Total War?

I must admit that I was only recently vaguely aware of Total Place. I had thought it was just a “consultancy speak” term for yet another “Public sector efficiency” fad.

There are also a number of similar confusing buzz words and phrases about - such as “shared services” and “Easy jet” Councils bouncing around.

Recent London UNISON meetings and briefings have rapidly brought me up to speed.

The Total Place initiative is to look at the total public sector spend in an area (such as a borough or county) and to look at ways to make efficiencies and savings by combining services. By total public spend I do mean “Total”. Council services, NHS services, central Government services, Police, Further education, utilities and even the voluntary sector. One example of this is a proposal to put practically all the “back office” public service functions into one Council building. So we could have generic HR, payroll, finance, policy and procurement etc for all the borough or county Job centres, hospitals, Police stations, GP practices, housing, schools, universities and colleges all in one location.

There is even a green argument that centralising all these functions will allow energy inefficient offices to be closed and new modern efficient ones to replace them. It could also be argued that this could bring about a rebirth in “municipalism” by localising control of public services back to democratically elected local authorities. This possible configuration will dramatic impact on everyone.

I think that the trade union argument has to be carefully balanced. None of us are by definition against providing better quality or green public services nor saving money which could be ploughed back.

But Total Place should not be used as a cover for privatisation and an excuse to attack the terms and conditions of public servants. If that happens then instead of partnership and co-operation – there could be destructive conflict and mistrust between unions and employers. I brought this possibility up at last night’s GC meeting of my local Labour Party during the Q&A with our MP Lyn Brown - who I am sure took the point on board.

Total Place could result in Total War but only the crazies of the union’s ultra left and the Tory reactionary right will want to bring this on and feast upon it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Join a union - TUC 60 second Ad Entry

Gary Williams with the animation ‘Join a union’. ‘Cute, and shows the difference between exterminate and negotiate…highly commended

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Voluntarism has Failed

This week’s TUC Risks E-zine reports on a campaign by two leading health & safety publications to introduce statutory health & safety duties for Directors. Check out the petition call and detailed arguments here.

The voluntary approach previously agreed with the HSE and business leaders has pretty clearly failed. The only way to get rogue companies and organisations to take their responsibility seriously for workers and public safety is the threat of criminal law sanctions.

Well run organisations have nothing to fear but action is desperately needed since it is estimated that 9 out of 10 injuries at work are attributable to management failure.

I remember attending a trade union safety conference some years ago where a Conservative MP (forget his name) who was also a company director was a panel speaker. He said that he did not understand that he faced imprisonment as a Company director if he allowed fraud to take place but not if negligently allowed his workers to be killed.

(pic from memorial in Three Mills Green Park - Newham)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why Should I Join a Union? - TUC 60 Second Ad Entry

James, Sean, Bridie and Ruby of Chesterfield High School in Crosby, with the film, ‘Why Should I Join a Union’, a ‘Sparky, down-to-earth film with a quirky sense of humour, not too serious with an important message….the young people were really engaging and great characters

Labour Party Conference 2009 – London Delegate Briefing.

It’s now less than a week away from Conference. Last Monday evening I went to the London Labour Party delegate briefing in the Victoria Street Party HQ.

I’ve been before to conference as a UNISON delegate but this year I am going on behalf of my CLP (Constituency Labour Party) West Ham. We were elected at this year’s CLP annual general meeting and I’m the general seat delegate while we also have a female and young labour delegate.

There was a good turnout of delegate for this briefing. I thought a good mix also of people, a noticeably large number of young members as well as a good representation of black and female delegates. Tower Hamlets and labour list blogger Dan McCurry was sitting behind me.

The briefing was addressed by Ken Clark (London Labour Regional Director), Steve Pound MP (Ealing North), Peter May (Regional officer) and Phil Dilks (Regional publicity). London Region of the Labour Party is sending the most delegates (95) and visitors (a massive 800 odd).

Steve Pound MP gave a presentation and he was as usual very good value. He promised us that we were at the “beginning of a great adventure” which we should all enjoy but he reminded us that we were there as representatives of our CLP’s and the wider Labour Party.

There was a lot of practical advice about pacing yourself (“wear comfortable shoes"), the security restrictions, attending fringes, dealing with the media and how to prepare and try to be selected for speaking at conference debates.

We also got a huge pile of conference guides, booklets and invites to various fringes to wade thorough.

I hope to blog on a regular basis during conference and may even “twitter” for the first time. So - as they say “watch this space”.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

We work better together - TUC 60 second Ad Entry

Diana Veitch and Louise Chinnery of Unison with the film, ‘We work better together’, which was ‘Witty and entertaining, showing a real situation at work..highly commended

Housing Matters 20 September 09

I’m going to try and post every weekend on the weeks topical Housing issues. This will be usually from a Public (aka Social) Housing perceptive.

My main source will be of course the trade bible “Inside Housing” which is run on behalf of the CIOH - but if anyone has any other news or opinion then please let me know (email via “view my complete profile” and “Email”).


Anchor Trust Boss pockets “£391,000” annual pay – this story is just unbelievable. His increase this year is 20%, his average employee increase is 2% and the average salary of an Anchor Care assistant is just £12,500. Check out this, and that and even this. Labour ministers I have tackled before on this issue had hinted that “something will be done” about such pay increases. Yeah. I don’t think that salary restriction in the private sector will ever happen but in regulated organisations dependant on the public purse (housing benefit and Council tax) we simply expect better. I will continue my whinging at next week’s Labour conference.

“Yvonne Hossack wins disciplinary hearing” – The scourge of the sheltered housing establishment defeats an attempt at the Solicitors Disciplinary tribunal to take action against her. She even had the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, in his capacity as a MP to give evidence in her favour. It appears that Alan rewards good service with large G&T’s in Strangers Bar. What an excellent idea!

Housing News reports that the RBIA want 4 million homes to be retrofitted within the life time of the next Parliament for energy conservation. Another good idea but is this ambitious enough?

UNISON speaker Rose MacGregor at the Housing debate at the TUC conference calls for over a million new homes to be built and for all new developments to include 30% of homes for social rent. The debate also noted that there are 1.7 million households on the housing waiting list and 63,000 registered homeless. So maybe a million is far too low?

Deflation not as bad as feared – Which is good for RSL’s and maybe for their staff. Some Housing associations are trying not to pay their staff any rise since they fear rents will be cut by as much as 2-3%. Tenants may of course see things differently?

Finally, somewhat off message but sort of Housing news - tonight I spoke to my old Mum on the phone. She is a tenant of a Welsh Housing Association in an over 50 block (which use to be her primary school when she was a young girl) and she was really happy because her landlord had agreed to replace her bath with a shower! A pleased and contented tenant.

Stop the Press!

(Picture of East London skyline from the Leopold Estate in Tower Hamlets)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Photo Booth - TUC 60 second Ad Entry

Paul Rey-Burns, musician, songwriter and filmmaker, with the film ‘Photo-booth’, ‘funny, smart and subverted the idea of what a union is about and what trade unions should be, it appealed to people’s sense of humour’

Stratford and New Town Canvass

Picture is of members about to go out canvassing in the Olympic ward Stratford and New Town with our MP Lyn Brown.

This is outside the local Party HQ (which I think needs a lick of paint and some TLC in the next few months). I think we had about 4 teams out door knocking and others using the call centre inside the HQ. The Mayor, Sir Robin Wales was out leading one group.

The response was pretty positive and my team managed to recruit two new Party members.

We canvassed a small public housing estate owned by East Thames HA and rows of Victorian terraced houses.

I know that national opinion polls are negative at the moment but I simply do not pick up any mass hostility to Labour or any real enthusiasm for the Tories. What is going on?

Friday, September 18, 2009

End of an era retirement Do

On the way home tonight I stopped off at a traditional Tower Hamlets “leaving do” which was being held to celebrate the retirement from the Council of Richard “Dickie” Fenn after 40 years of service to the local community.

Dickie was the team leader of the Emergency Call Out service who would turn out rain or shine, day or night, 7 days a week to deal with the aftermath of fire, floods, storms and all the other borough disasters.

The IRA probably posed the greatest challenge due to the widespread destruction following the Dockland bombings in 1996 when his team had to board up smashed windows to some 500 council residential properties. As a housing officer you knew you could simply reply on Dickie and his team to turn out and deal effectively with practically any emergency you could throw at them. He was an example of the "old school" council worker at its very best.

Dickie started off as a caretaker in the GLC during 1969 and was then transferred to Tower Hamlets Council following its demise.

The “Do” was held at the Calder Wharf Community Centre on the Isle of Dogs. It is probably one of the best located community resources in East London, right on the banks of the Thames overlooking Greenwich Naval college. The sunset was stunning!

There was a good turnout of people to join Dickie and his family and help them celebrate his retirement. People who I haven’t seen for years. Of course there was also a free bar and buffet. I have no doubt that the celebrations are still going on now (its only 22.25).

During the semi formal presentations there was some fond traditional teasing of Dickie by his manager comparing 1969 with today – for example Dickie’s alleged career long reluctance to pay into the Tea club since he considered this to be part of his GLC Green book terms and conditions - and that when he was employed as a GLC housing caretaker, his wife had to be interviewed as well as him to make sure that she was “suitable”.

There is one story that was not mentioned that I remember that sums up the man best and an era that has now long gone.

In the 1980’s he was a Head caretaker in Bow and he went to visit a property that had been allocated to a new member of his residential caretaking team. As he entered the flat he found the Caretaker’s pregnant wife with two young toddlers in tears at the state of the flat which was damp, mouldy and totally unfit - which should never had been let to anyone – never mind one of his caretakers. Dickie looked around the home and told the wife to pack up since he was moving them. He then arranged for the family to be moved and stormed off to senior managers and successfully demanded a new and decent home that same very day.

The actual caretaker himself wasn’t aware what had happened until he went home that night to find his old home empty.

(I forgot my camera but others were taking pics so I will try and get a photo)

The State of the Unions

The 2009 TUC seems to have passed off quite well. A little bit of drama and passion at the end with the supposed fisty cuffs at General Council over a boycott of Israel - which turned eventually (inevitably?) into the classic TUC fudge on the Congress floor.

I think this year (this is utterly subjective) that it got a higher profile in the media than in the past - which is good. The wildcat strikes and factory occupations have reminded the media that unions exist and have provided good copy for them.

But there is trouble at’ mill in the union movement. Membership is well down from our 1970's peak and although lately stable in numbers - all important density is down, especially in the private sector. All of us know this, even though of course, we cannot all agree on what to do about it.

Or, if we are all really, really honest I think we are genuinely unsure and and uncharacteristically uncertain what to do.

The New Statesman supplement for the TUC congress on trade unions is useful and in the near future I will try and post something useful on the union "State We’re In” and the possible ways forward.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

TUC supports Justice for Victims of Pleural Plaques

I received this email and YouTube link today from TULO

I've got some good news to share with you about our campaign for justice for victims of Pleural Plaques.

The TUC debated an Emergency motion on Plaques yesterday - and the whole union movement has united behind this campaign for justice. This is a really important moment in our campaign - it just goes to show what we can achieve when we work together like this.

Over the past few weeks we've been working on a video, which was played to Congress. The video features sufferers of Pleural Plaques - including a man called Alan Clark. Alan sadly died of Mesothelioma shortly after recording his interview - but he wanted his story to be used to help win justice for Pleural Plaques.You can watch it here - please sign the petition and then invite all of your friends to do the same:

It's a deeply touching film and - I hope - a fitting tribute. I'm genuinely proud to have worked on this project.But it's not only Alan's story that touched me. It's the people who have to deal with this condition day in, day out.

It's their stories that call for justice better than I ever could.Because the truth is that Pleural Plaques causes real and genuine concern for victims - and their families. It's a real life ticking timebomb - and the cause of untold worry and concern.You can watch their stories here - and then please sign our petition and then invite your friends to do the same:

Now, our march for justice continues. We will not back down from this fight. We stand up for victims of Pleural Plaques wherever we can. This is a call for justice that each of us must answer.

Thank you

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tower Hamlets Housing Strike – UNISON the Enema

The beginning of this month was the 10th anniversary of the ending of this strike. A classic compromise was eventually hammered out.

I seem to remember a bottle of Gordon’s gin played a part in forming the union proposal which became the basis of the eventual agreement.

The strike achieved a reduction in the number of local housing offices closures from a proposed 8 to 16 and an agreement which meant effectively that there will be no compulsory redundancies (crucial).

I have posted previously on this month long all out strike here and here.

As well as picketing buildings we also had had a march with resident groups on the Town Hall (which opened my eyes to certain things) and a public rally in York Hall where the strike committee members had to rescue the (admittedly provoked) Council leader of the time after he told a tenant to go “forth and multiply”.

During the final negotiations to end the strike the Tower Hamlets Chief Executive announced that a friend had recently returned from holiday in Thailand. This friend had been aware of the “difficulties” being caused to her by the strike and had noticed that in Thailand the leading medical brand for constipation was called UNISON and had brought her back a bottle which the CEO put on the negotiating table (see centre picture) for our amusement.

Tory Pub Quiz

Hat-tip thingy to Madame Lash via Comrade Mercader

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

John’s Labour blog: The Number One (ish) Trade Union Blog 2009

John’s Labour Blog has for the second year in a row been declared as the “Number One Union” blog by TIGMOO an “aggregator service for blogs about unions and unionism in the UK” which links to 120 UK union blogs.

TIGMOO ranks the 25 top union blogs and describes this blog as

1: John's Labour blog (1)
Last year’s top spot retained again for this blog by a UNISON convenor reporting on his work and union issues in general. The blog has a strong focus on Labour party activism through the UNISON Labour Link and on developments for union pensions activists.

The blogs in the TIGMOO network have been ranked according to four equally weighted factors: Traffic ratings generated by, number of posts in the last 8 weeks, number of comments in that time, and the number of inbound links found by Google”.

Please note that TIGMOO also state “these measures have a huge margin
of error, especially when dealing with smaller sites, and of course measuring quantity doesn’t always predict quality, though all the 25 listed here are certainly well worth checking out

TIGMOO started off this rating last year during the TUC annual congress and state that “This guide is a play on Iain Dale’s Total Politics Guide to Political Blogs, which annually ranks hundreds of blogs from across the political spectrum”

Not that I pay much attention to such stuff – after all - was I at all bovvered that the wreakers and splitters at Tory Boy Iain Dales “Total Politicssabotaged my top 100 “Left Wing” ranking this year?

No, of course not. All the true bloggers I have ever met have been honest, gentile, mild mannered, consensual, polite, modest, moderate, uncompetitive and contemplative souls, who simply poor scorn on the very idea of such ranking and league tables and surely agree whole heartedly with this very sound sentiment below (but nothing else)

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Newham Labour Party, Party

This exciting picture features the pink flying saucer seen hovering above all the crème de la crème of Newham Labour Party at last night’s fund raising B-B-Q.

This was organised jointly by Newham Young Labour and Newham Fabians and held in a member's Forest Gate garden.

It was a great success and the entrance fee and raffle raised money for Forest Gate North branch and Newham Young Labour.

In the picture is Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales and East Ham MP Stephen Timms. While local London Assembly member John Biggs was also somewhere. West Ham MP Lyn Brown arrived later as did others who came to break the fast.

It was a good night – many thanks to the organisers.

The New Spectre Haunting Europe

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TUC Conference 2009 - “Congress Voices”

Tomorrow is the start of the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) annual conference in Liverpool.

The TUC has set up a new web site “Congress Voices” where you can link during the week to TUC - new and old media (the Press department, Congress TV, blogs and twitter).

They even allow "comments"!

All Good stuff!

Plaistow South Sunday Canvass (& BNP Love Story?)

The summer break is long over and it is time to be back “on the knocker”. Calling on local people in Newham to identify any local issues that they want resolving and their voting intentions.

Yesterday there was a large team out in Canning Town South and this afternoon I helped out in Plaistow South (West Ham CLP). Local Councillor Graham Lane (2nd right) and Neil Wilson (4th right) each led a team.

The voter identification went very well but I was surprised that we picked up very little casework considering we had local ward councillors with us. But I then found out that the local Councillors hold a successful weekly surgery in the New Vic School which is just nearby.

Interesting story told about how one local resident use to regularly stand in elections as a candidate - year in – year out - for the BNP. Then one day when a Labour Party canvasser called he told him that he was no longer in the BNP. He admitted he had been expelled because he had married a “non white”.

omnia vincit amor

Friday, September 11, 2009

Anthony Walker Memorial Lecture - Friday 23rd October (5-8pm)

Anthony Walker, who was a Black British A-level student from Huyton, Merseyside, a Christian and a keen basketball player, was brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack on 30 July 2005 near McGoldrick Park in Huyton. The crime shocked Anthony’s community, as well as the people of Liverpool, and gained widespread national publicity. The perpetrators were brought to justice and received lengthy prison sentences.

The NUT, in partnership with the Anthony Walker Foundation, instituted an annual memorial lecture in the name of Anthony Walker in 2007. This year’s lecture is due to take place on:

Friday 23rd October at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool from 5:00–8:00pm.

Contact here

Thursday, September 10, 2009

UNISONActive: Time for Pension Funds to Control Executive Pay

“UNISONActive is produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective”.

A warm welcome to Blogland to the new site UNISON Active. It is bright, informative, sparky and well designed. This article on why it is about time that pension funds took action to control Executive Pay is just absolutely spot on.

As it says UNISON members via their pension and life assurance funds actually own big chunks of the Banks yet we supposedly allowed their managers to bankrupt themselves then we as tax payers had to bail them out. Now UNISON members are expected to take a drop in income in order to pay for all this???

We do need fundamental change to prevent this happening again. We cannot continue to allow control of our capital to be handed over to city fund managers who simply don’t give a damn over the long term performance of our money. They themselves are judged by short term investment performance every 3 months and sacked if they don’t perform. So it is not surprising that they appoint Bank Executives who promise fast returns in return for fat bucks. They are speculators not investors.

Paul Myners, the Minister for the City put it like this…."Disengaged investors lead to ownerless corporations and the risk of unaccountable executives and boards running amok."

Pension and life assurance policy holders are by definition in it for the long term. Despite my youthful good looks I have already 22 years of pension contributions and it will be another 19 years until I retire (hopefully 65-ish). Fingers (and toes) crossed I will then probably live another 20 years. There then of could also be a spouse pension.

So I’m interested in a 60 odd year relationship with my investments not just 3 months or 3 years. If my pension investments were properly aliened with my true interests then my fund managers would ensure the executives of companies they invest in on my behalf are rewarded on the basis of the long term added value and security they give to my fund.

BYW - I actually remember in the 1990's my fund sacked Paul (Now Lord) Myners who then worked for Gartmore as our senior fund manager due to short term "performance". The manager we appointed to replace them didn't do that much good and we have since sacked them as well.

Atomic Energy Expert John Gray to run for Greens

No - not me (the Greens will be glad to hear) but the John Gray who is Mayor of Greenland, Arkansas and is an atomic energy expert. He is seeking the Green Party nomination for US Senate in 2010.

You deserve better - join a union

Well done To West Midlands UNISON for winning the TUC one minute video competition to promote Worksmart/Union finder. The video will be shown to delegates at conference next week.

Obama tells it as it is. Great stuff. Direct and to the point why we need strong unions and why people need to join.

Hat-tip thingy to James NEC Update

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Somerfield’s adoption by the Co-operative family

Our local Somerfield (in a very handy location just next door to Forest Gate Station) is now giving out leaflets about being part of the “Co-op family”. I also got a marketing email today about this (see picture left).

I have asked staff when the full rebranding will take place but they were not too sure. But good news for us local residents and no doubt the staff.

I am a member of the “Co-op” (and the Labour affiliated Co-op Party) but there had been nowhere locally to buy goods and groceries since the stores in Leytonstone and Stratford closed many moons ago.

Tonight on BBC local News I watched a report on a campaign to have the former East End work house and mental health hospital, St Clements, (where I use to do trade union site safety inspections - a very interesting experience) turned into a Housing Co-op site and Community Land Trust.

The mutually owned Banks and building societies have been attracting fresh interest since it appears that due to their ownership structure they have survived the recent financial turmoil much better that their Joint Stock competitors (not all of course). There is never the less a lesson here for the benefits of active ownership.

The Co-op financial services has also recently taking over the Britannia Building society (a long term partner with UNISON) to produce a new “super mutual”.

So it appears that the Co-op movement in the UK (and especially Newham) seems to be on the march again.

BTW - I must admit that I was disappointed that last week while on a self catering holiday in the Durham Dales I could not use my membership card at local Co-op stores when making purchases. Especially since we were asked every purchase if we had a shareholder account number. I appreciate that local Co-op’s are proud of their independence but I think that it would benefit the movement as a whole if your support by spending at other Co-ops was recognised in some way.

Just a thought- not really a moan.

“Alasdair must be one of the most outstanding councillors in the country. I salute him”.

Well said Thanet District Councillor, Mark Nottingham about Alasdair Ross.

Alasdair is a Labour Ipswich Councillor (and blogger) who is also currently serving his country as a military reservist in Afghanistan.

See my previous post here and this post.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

UNISON London Labour Link – Great News!

Today we held a very constructive and positive UNISON London Labour Link committee (APF) meeting. I chaired the first part of the meeting due to sickness of the committee Chairs.

Business included the London UNISON MPs Parliamentary report (Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn was unusually held up and came after we had finished the meeting but we had a chat about things and I am sure he will send us a written report to circulate). We had a written report (and apologies) from London Assembly member Joanne McCartney.

Gloria Hanson my joint deputy Chair (and of course our London region UNISON convener) gave an illuminating verbal feedback on this week’s Greater London Labour Party Board. The selection process for Labour candidates to stand in next year’s borough elections is in full swing.

There were also positive reports from delegates (including from myself) on the National Labour Party Forum in Manchester.

The rest of the business was the usual budget reports, work plan & priorities and an update on the UNISON Parliamentary Selection Process.

There was a discussion on the current row on Labour politicians appearing alongside the BNP/Nazi on programmes such as "Question Time". I think that we agreed that they should not appear but have to find better ways of challenging these "straw man" fascists and their stupid lies.

Things are currently very difficult (but not at all impossible!) for Labour nationally and UNISON Labour Link is doing its best to get the Party to adopt policies that will help us win next year.

My contribution to today's discussion which I think was accepted by the committee is that while recognising the Government has simply got to change tack in certain key policies - all of us believe that for trade unionists and ordinary people the worse day in any Labour Government is much, much better that the best day in any Tory government.

Then there was an announcement by Gloria which cheered us all up and made us look forward to the big fights next year. We agreed to keep the news to ourselves for now and - maybe - announce it at the London Regional Council meeting in October.

Mum’s the word!

(This picture is not directly related to Gloria’s announcement but since it also good relevant news of what happens when UNISON and Labour acts in concert – I just had to post it twice.)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy Labour Day – Workin’ Man – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

A very Happy Labour (Labor) Day to all those across the pond. Hat-tip thingy to Norm.

This is my first ever link to Mr Geras who I heard speaking to a Euston Manifesto meeting a few years back.

I have a RSS feed to his site but he is a very scary blogger for these reasons:-

1. He does so,so many posts – For example 9 in the past 36 hours!!!
2. He is said to be a admirer of Tony Blair despite being a Marxist (but he hates the SWP “not socialists, not workers and not a Party”)
3. He loves cricket and also blogs about it on his site.

nuff said!

Tower Hamlets College - Save ESOL - Support the Strike

UCU at Tower Hamlets College are on all out strike. UNISON members I understand are also being balloted. Double click scans to bring up details.

Support the Rushanara Ali of Tower Hamlets
Labour Party Number 10 petition here. As requested by THC strikers.

Recently, proposed cuts to courses and potential redundancies were announced at Tower Hamlets College. We are appalled by the plans to slash some 1000 places on the English for Speakers of Other Languages courses in addition to the 2000 places that have already been lost since 2005.

In such a diverse community as Tower Hamlets, English is not the first language for a large proportion of residents and these ESOL courses are vital for people of all ages as learning English allows residents to progress in both work and education, and to participate more fully in the community.

We are extremely worried that local residents who lack English training will continue to be marginalised in our society and their ability to integrate into the labour market and society more generally will be substantially reduced”.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Save Sheltered Housing Wardens

The decision by local authorities and housing associations nationwide to replace residential wardens with teams of ‘floating’ workers.

A residential warden is physically there on a live-in, daily basis and can pick up on problems much more quickly than these ‘floating’ workers. Cost cutting in one part of the service will lead to financial and social costs elsewhere. Many older people will feel that they are losing their security, as well as being severely let down.

Calling on councils to immediately re-examine their policies to make sure that funding is prioritised to provide comprehensive services for our most vulnerable in society. Wardens have a strong preventative role to play in recognising problems before they get too bad and maximising people's independence.

The number of over 65s in England is expected to increase by more than 3 million in the next 15 years but the money to care for them is not keeping up.

To sign Number 10 petition click here

(Facebook "Save Sheltered Housing Wardens")

Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason Ticket

Presented in association with The TUC as part of the 2009 World Day for Decent Work. Wednesday 7 October Featuring the legendary Linton Kwesi Johnson performing with fellow dub poet Jean 'Binta' Breeze . With one of the brightest young stars of performance poetry, Laura Dockrill. And opening the show on a musical hight note, Congolese band The Zong Zing All Stars. Mixing the ideas with the entertainment will be TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady, Author of Meltdown : The End of the Age of Greed Paul Mason and others. Book early Our events always sell out! Book with or without buffet supper. Big saving if you book as a table of 10 . The TUC is at 23-28 Great Russell Street, London WC1. Event starts at 7pm.

Tickets £15.99 - book on-line here

Bella ciao, Iran

The Second World War anti-fascist Italian Partisan song Bella ciao which has now become one of the symbols of the modern day Iranian freedom movement. Hat tip thingy to Luke’s Blog

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Scots to turn back clock on "Demon Booze".

Last week I spent an enjoyable few days in Edinburgh at the fringe. While queuing in shops I saw legal notices concerning new restrictions on alcohol advertising, product placement and the banning of vouchers for cheap booze (even CAMRA vouchers are now a “no-go”).

The Scottish Executive have also announced plans to consider increasing the unit price of alcohol and even restricting under 21’s from buying booze.

How things change? Scotland now seems to be taking a lead in reintroducing restrictions on alcohol. Talk about reinventing the wheel? Things seem very different away from the Edinburgh I knew in the mid 1980’s.

Coming fresh from an English and Wales booze licensing prospective - I was astonished at the liberal Scottish Licensing laws. Pubs open all day, every day. I even had a part time job in a dodgy nightclub in Rose Street (run by a well-known local gangster). We used to close the club for 4am then go off ourselves to another licensed club that opened until 6am.

Maybe licensing laws are like economic cycles? The freedom to booze 24/7 that first started in Scotland and later adopted in England and Wales will now start to be reversed in the land of its birth.

There is a long way to go. Mrs Grayee was until very recently on one of her “no booze” health kicks. In our first Edinburgh restaurant we went for a meal and the waiter was visibly shocked and confused that she did not want a drink. The following night in another restaurant my order for one glass of red wine for me was automatically turned into two glasses for the both of us. While in a cosmopolitan pub in Newington, my enquiry about the possibility of buying a non-alcoholic drink was greeted with a broad grin from the barmaid who proudly announced that they did once have some Kalibar in stock but it had all gone out of date!

We went to see the popular fringe event the “Credit Crunch Cabaret” show with Frank Skinner in the Assembly Rooms. The well known teetotaller Frank was doing his job as compere by abusing folk who were coming into the theatre late - one of whom who was obviously “worse for wear” turned round and offered Frank a drink of beer from his glass. Frank reminded him that he was a recovering alcoholic and should not really be offered a drink. The drunk did not seem that bothered by Frank’s response and even seemed a little pleased that he could keep all his drink to himself.

If any non-Scots are feeling too smug, I suggest they go to any British Wetherspoon pub for a cooked breakfast at 9am on a Saturday morning and see how many people there are not eating but drinking their first pint of beer of the day.

(Picture is from a previous campaign to try to persuade people not to drink - which was for some reason unsuccessful)