Wednesday, June 30, 2010

West Ham CLP nominate Ed Miliband as Labour Leader

 Tonight there was an “all members” meeting held before our Labour Party General Committee to decide who (if any) of the declared candidates we would endorse. All five candidates were nominated and seconded and there was a lively debate between their respective supporters.

Ed Miliband was nominated by Ellie Robertson who is a new Councillor and Chair of Newham Young Labour. I seconded Ed and was also able to speak in his favour.

My view was that Ed is the candidate best placed to beat Cameron and Clegg which is vitally important since without power - we can do nothing.

However, he also the candidate who has committed to tackling inequality and redistribute wealth, not only because it is fairer but because more equal societies are better societies in all measurable ways not only for the poor but also for the better off.

The previous Labour Government did many, many good things but instead of us having a balanced or truly mixed economy it let the pendulum swing too far to the right in certain areas and “the market” into public services and its provision - and it is now time to swing the pendulum back to the left in order to create balance and a centre left economy. An economy where the public sector does what it is good at and provides not for profit services direct to the public and the private sector does what is good at – creating wealth in the free enterprise business economy.

On a personal note I also mentioned that I supported Ed because I was very impressed with the way he conducted himself when he was the keynote guest speaker at the UNISON Labour Link forum in Manchester last year. Two things in particular struck me. One that he admitted to the forum that the Government did not get everything right. He would be listening to the Radio in the morning and hear about a government announcement and think “why on earth did we do that?” I thought at the time this was a brave thing for a Government minister to say. It was also something very much that I could relate to since I had also in the past choked on my branflakes at some of the things that I had heard the government get up to in the morning while listening to the radio!

The second things that struck me about Ed was that after his speech to Forum in the Q&A - the delegates got stuck in (as UNISON delegates do) with the questions and gave him a “bit of a hard time”. Yet Ed gave as good as he got and while passionate in his responses he was not rattled and in the end the forum organisers had to practically drag him off so they could move business on. Ed in the meanwhile told delegates that he wasn’t going to leave the conference venue and he wanted to continue the debate and invited questioners to carry on where they had left it outside the forum hall. Which he did!

It was a close race in West Ham but Ed was in the lead (just) on the 1st preferences but was confirmed as winner after the 2nd preference count.

On Sunday evening July 18 the West Ham (and East London) Labour movement will have a chance to judge the candidates at the Hustings (sponsored by UNISON who will invite affiliates to attend) that is due to take place in Stratford (home of the first ever Labour MP)

(Picture is of Ed Miliband at the East Ham meeting on June 11th - East Ham CLP have since also made a supportive nomination for Ed. I’ll post pictures of tonight’s event soon)

Ed Balls in Newham - Save Free School Meals

Labour leadership Candidate Ed Balls, visited a Newham School yesterday and he talks above about the threat to free school meals. Hat-tip thingy Labourlist.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

David Miliband speaks to meeting at Stratford Town Hall

This college is from last night's meeting with David Miliband held at the Old Town Hall in Stratford, E15.  This was chaired by Ahmed Noor who I believe is the son of the first Asian shopkeeper in Green Street and my old mucker Terry Paul, who is a local ward member for Stratford and fellow "newbie" Newham Councillor.  Labour MP Keith Vaz introduced everyone to the audience.

David was the guest of the Pakistani Association of Newham.

He gave his usual impressive and polished speech and dealt with pretty well with a wide ranging Q&A.

I managed to ask him a question about what he thought the role of modern trade unions should be if became Prime minister and he was let us say pretty positive without being particularly prescriptive. 

I think he is a very good candidate, but his brother Ed - has the edge - and I think has the better chance of appearing different from the evil twins, Cameron and Clegg, and defeating them at the next election (sorry Steve and Terry)

Monday, June 28, 2010

“What will the Harvest be?” Abbey Gardens Fair & the “Plaistow Landgrabbers”

Pictures are from a really enjoyable afternoon I spent a few weeks ago at the summer fair of the “Friends of Abbey Garden”. This is on the actual site of what was once the medieval Langthorn Abbey. For many years this 2000 sq feet plot of land was a waste ground but it is now a community led park and very attractive communal garden in my ward.

The original Abbey was actually “sacked” during the Peasant’s revolt but became one of the richest Abbeys in England before it was closed during the dissolution of monasteries in 1538.

The garden also celebrates the “Plaistow Landgrabbers” (see black and white picture). In 1906 unemployed workers squattered on land nearby to prove that the unemployed did want to work. The Council eventually reprocessed the land and local Councillor Ben Cunningham (see on left wearing white hat) spent 5 weeks in prison for contempt of court for supporting the protest. If you look again to the left of the original back and white picture you see the “What will the Harvest be?” slogan which has been adopted by the Abbey garden.  Double click collage to bring up detail.

As well as a tour - I was able to enjoy some freshly baked homemade cakes and take back some garden grown organic veg via the “honesty stall" (bottom left).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Labour Party Leadership Elections 2010

UNISON Labour Link hasn’t decided yet which (if any) of the Labour Party Leadership candidates they should support and recommend to members.

There will be a hustings at the National Labour Link forum in Leeds next weekend. There will also be at least 50 other hustings taking place up and down the country. West Ham CLP (sponsored by London UNISON Labour Link) will be organising an event for members and affiliates – hopefully on Sunday evening July 18- tbc)

The affiliated unions will have a 1/3 of the total votes cast via a secret postal ballot of all levy payers. Apparently UNISON has about 885,000 levy payers out of a total 3.4 million. There are around 157,000 individual party members.

During the next week or so as the branch Labour link officer I will be trying to consult the 1,000 labour levy players in my branch on who they prefer should be supported (and also who should be the Labour Mayor for London candidate – that’s another story).

I might as well put my oar in now and say that I hope that UNISON Labour Link does make a decision to support and I also that it will be for Ed Miliband. I’ll post on why sometime soon.

In the meantime:-

End of supporting nominations is 26th July 2010 (West Ham CLP meets on Wednesday to decide on a nomination)

Ballot papers being to drop 1st September 2010

Freeze date for new members to join 8th September 2010 (which I assume means that new members will still get ballot papers?).

UNISON NDC 2010: The Final Standing Orders committee report.

If you have never been to a UNISON conference on its last day then this is not quite what you would expect. The report is given by the Chair of the NDC standing committee who is advised to keep his day job:)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Longest Strike in History: Burston School Rally 5 Sept 2010

This incredible strike in a rural Norfolk school went on for 25 years - from 1914 to 1939!  There is now a museum in the village and an annual Labour movement rally to commemorate it, which I hope to visit this year.  Check out more on the history here.

Notting Hill Housing Dispute: Acas talks

This update was published in Inside Housing yesterday.  Double click on caption to bring up details.

Since talks are ongoing I won't say anymore at the moment except of course to hope that the talks are successful.

You can find out more about the history of the dispute herehere and here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

David Miliband speaks at Stratford Town Hall Monday 28 June 7.30pm

Labour Party leadership contender David Miliband will be speaking to London Labour Party members and trade union affiliates at the historic Old Town Hall in Stratford, Newham London on Monday 28 June. 

This event is being sponsored by the Pakistani Association of Newham and supported by local Labour Party members and affiliate supporters.

Stratford Town Hall is an iconic Labour movement site since Keir Hardy the first ever "Labour Party" MP gave his victory speech from the its balcony overlooking Stratford High Street in 1892 following his election for West Ham South.

Doors open 7pm but RSVP Ahmed Noor ( or Terry Paul ( if you are planning to attend.

(picture is from the UNISON London regional Labour Link AGM this year at the House of Commons when David was our guest speaker.  I was Chair and I cannot remember for the life of me what we were laughing about at the time of the photo?  Personally I will be supporting his brother Ed for leader (personal capacity) but will be at the meeting to listern.  West Ham CLP is trying to organise an East London husting of all candidates for the leadership elections.  We have agreed sponsorship from UNISON Labour Link and a venue - but it is proving "difficult" to pick a date suitable for everyone.  As they say - watch this space!)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Defeat the BNP in the Barking & Dagenham By-Election 6 July

UNISON NEC member Louise Couling who won the election last month has had to resign and re-run in a by-election on 8 July.

BNP assembly member Richard Barnbrook is standing against her.  I also received this email from local MP Margaret Hodge. 

"We now have just over two weeks to go until polling day. This election will be vital in determining whether we have truly seen the back of the far right in our Borough.

Please do come and help us if you have time over the next few weeks.

We will be campaigning this Saturday 11am-3pm at Transport House 50-52 New Road, Dagenham RM9 6YS. We'll provide lunch, training for anyone who is new and of course a warm welcome. The nearest train station is Dagenham Dock, trains run from Fenchurch Street (Tower Hill) and West Ham every half hour and it's a five minute walk from the station to Transport House.

This Thursday and Friday we will be delivering postal vote GOTV letters, this is crucial to our strategy of getting all of our Labour promises out to vote.

Please put Saturday 3rd July in your diary - it is the final Saturday before polling day and we will be holding a big final push to make sure we speak to all of our promises before July 8th. We will be meeting again at Transport House at 11am. I do hope that you will be able to join me".

If you can help with any of our activities or have a spare hour or two, please do call Jen on the campagins hotline on 07576 323 109 or e-mail me at".

Promoted by Jennifer Oliver on behalf of Louise Couling all at 304 Hedgemans Road, Dagenham, RM9 6DA.

"We're all in this together"?

A "Progressive budget"? Yeah.  Check out this morning's Guardian take on this and the CONDEM belief that we are all sharing the pain.

Osborne's "tough but fair" claim is also shown to be a nonsense.

I blogged on this "Equality of Sacrifice" poster in April and thought it could be a question of history repeating itself.  I never thought it would be quite so apt.

Mind you - how the "The Grauniad" itself has the blooming cheek to complain about anything after this - is beyond me.

(thanks to Col. Roi for a higher quality version of this poster)

Update: according to David Miliband it was from the 1929 General election

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010: Angela tells it as it is

I forgot – a couple more video posts about UNISON NDC. Sound quality not that very good but while waiting in one of the speaker chairs last week just before I was “bumped off” I was able to video the last bit of top Stockport Local Government branch activist, Angela Bowan, as she lays into the grandstanding ultra left who are “playing politics with our members!”

Go Girl Go! Note the applause at the end!

Dont' let Nurses Freeze

So the CONDEMs are going to protect the NHS and front line services?

The first of many protests - Nurses at Kingston Hospital protest today at a job freeze.  Check out this UNISON press release.

"Dont' let Nurses Freeze

Kingston hospital’s decision to freeze front-line nursing posts will hit patient care hard as well as adding to the burden on existing over-stretched staff, said UNISON nurses at the hospital today (insert date). The nurses condemned moves to cut the number of nurses on wards as part of a jobs freeze at the hospital, saying that it flies in the face of pledges to protect front-line NHS staff.

The Trust management have stated that they will not replace nurses who leave unless they are “critical”.

Michael Walker, Nursing officer for UNISON slammed the proposed cuts as “putting patient care at risk” saying:

“ it is outrageous that overworked nurses are being expected to cover for nursing posts that are not filled. UNISON believes that the cuts will put lives and patient care at risk. The Coalition Government told us that they would not cut front line services, and yet at Kingston - Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s local hospital - this is exactly what we are witnessing - nurses are very much frontline service”.

Nora Pearce, UNISON Nursing & Midwifery Convenor at the hospital said:

“The NHS has a very high turnover of nursing posts; nurses cannot simply be expected to pick up the work of posts no longer filled without compromising the care we provide.

“I urge those implementing the cuts to take serious consideration of our concerns and reverse this decision”


BBC London News – A public sector worker's view on the budget

 Yesterday lunchtime I was interviewed by BBC London news about the budget.  Parts of which was broadcast on “London News” at 6.30pm last night. You can see it here (first few minutes) for the next 12 hours and I think you can download on BBC iPlayer for the next 7 days.

My chief concern was about what will happen to public sector workers who are already struggling after years of below inflation pay rises, who now have to cope with the prospect of pay freezes (which means a 5.1% pay cut in real terms for this year alone) and tax rises.

I’ve also just (07.15) had an interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC Radio. I was asked to speak about the impact on public sector workers who like me earn over £21k per year. Especially in London (one of the most expensive places to live in the world) this means people like front office reception staff, nursery nurses and Police Community support officers. I tried to argue that there is an alternative to these “savage cuts” and if we are “all in this together” then for real fairness - the better off and the wealthy should be paying their fair share towards reducing the deficit.

(Pictured outside Broderick House which I use to manage several years ago which is now run by Tower Hamlets Homes)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Because they are Tories and that is what they do..."

No-one can say you were not warned.  In the face of the 25% budget cuts, 20% VAT, frozen pay and child benefit, tax credits, pregnancy grants, Sure start, DLA restrictions...Check out "The Common People" video again and weep.

Dave Prentis re-elected as UNISON General Secretary with Massive Majority

 Great news on an otherwise miserable day (the CONDEM "emergency" budget). Centre left moderate Dave Prentis has been overwhelmingly re-elected as UNISON General Secretary. Official result here

"Dave Prentis 145,351 (67.2%)

Roger Bannister 42,651 (19.7%)

Paul Holmes 28,114 (13%)

Dave has been UNISON’s General Secretary since January, 2001, he said:

“This is a vote of confidence in the union and the direction that we have been taking over the past few years.

“We face critical times as a union and it is important that we remain united, strong and focussed on dealing with the challenges that face our members.

“Under the coalition government, public services face an onslaught on a scale unprecedented since Thatcher was Prime Minister. The government is pressing ahead with cuts to public services, to our members’ jobs, pay and pensions, with complete disregard to the serious social consequences.

“We are ready to face the tough times ahead, we are growing in strength and numbers. Together we will stand up for quality public services, for the hardworking people that provide them, and for the poor, the sick and vulnerable people who rely on them for support.

“We will be the people who stand in the way of these ferocious attacks on our public services and the path to creating a fairer society”.

(Check out UNISONactive take on this victory – I couldn’t possible comment on Lord Sutch:)

Monday, June 21, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010: Organising and CONDEMNATION

 This is my last NDC 2010 post. Picture of London UNISON regional convenor Gloria Hanson outside conference with a very suitable sign. 

This is a speech I did for the Friday morning "Organising" debate (but was "bumped off").

"Conference, President, John Gray HAB, Greater London region speaking in favour of Composite A.

I think that all of us welcome the opportunity to debate the “bread and butter” issue of organising in our union. I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned that old chestnut “organise or die” but I think we all know in our heart of hearts that the future growth and development of the union is the most important matter we need to get right this week.

Conference, as Dave mentioned in his address on Tuesday, we are facing a “perfect storm” - a coalition government which is an open enemy of trade unionism. A government which is committed to savage spending cuts and is going to use wholesale privatisation as one of the ways to bring this about. That means our jobs, our pensions and our terms & conditions.

To resist and defend we must have high densities of members in all branches, in all regions and all services groups. We need trained and properly supported stewards, safety, learning and equality reps in every single workplace. We need effective back up from regional and national office. Nothing less will be acceptable. Otherwise the important issues we have discussed this week will just be hot air.

To give you an idea of the organising challenges facing us from a Community Service Group perspective. I am the branch secretary of a branch with 3500 members, located mainly in London but we also have a range of members working from Southampton to Peterborough. We have some 130 different employers – big and small. My own employer has offices located in 4 different UNISON regions and covered by 7 different UNISON branches.

So conference. I welcome the commitment in this composite to set a target of 1.5 million members; the commitment to tackle “inequality in representation”; the 100 new organising staff; the 3 companies’ project and the Living wage campaign. Also, to no-one’s surprise who knows me I welcome the commitment to greater use of information technology and even new social media.

Conference, please support this composite and go back to your branches next week and make organising number one on your agenda".

Armed Forces Day

I wasn’t able to attend the flag raising for Armed Forces Day at Newham Town Hall this morning but Ipswich Labour Councillor (and former soldier) Alasdair Ross posts far more eloquently (and with more reason) that I could on his local ceremony. Up and down the country there were similar events.

The picture shows how while on active duty last year his battalion flew the flag for Armed Forces Day in the only cool place in Sangin – the Helmond river.

UNISON NDC 2010: Tobin (Robin Hood) Tax Motion 92

I actually managed to give this speech to conference without being “bumped off”!

"President, conference, John Gray, Housing Association Branch, London region speaking in favour of motion 92.

The Tobin or rather the Robin Hood Tax is a win, win for everyone. Not only a means to redistribute wealth from the very rich to the desperately poor but also a way of trying to ensure financially stability for our economy. Previous speakers have described how this tax is affordable, targeted and can raise large sums of money and the good use it could be put to.

However, we need to remind all members who have funded pension scheme’s or life assurance policies that it is very much in their own personal and collective interests that this tax is brought in. Remember conference that the original aim of the tax was to counter damage caused to economies by short term financial speculators who constantly buy and sell or “churn” currencies, stocks and shares. If by a relatively small tax on every city transaction it will make speculators think twice about such “churn” - then this will benefit not only our economy but our own worker savings.

Conference, don’t think that City speculators have nothing to do with you. For example every 3 months or so, city fund managers come and visit town halls up and down the country about their pension schemes. I’ve been a UNISON pension representative on my mine for 14 years; Pensions are by definition long term investments. What pensions need is investments that are also long term. But what happens in many pension funds at this moment is that we pay huge amounts of money to fund managers, who then spend even more of our money in commissions, buying and selling shares, on a daily or even hourly basis - not that they think these companies are well managed, well run businesses which will provide security and revenue for our pensions but because of short term volatility. This is what is meant by “casino finance”.

Conference, there is plenty of hard evidence that investing for the long term will produce superior investment returns. If our pension funds had been run in the past in our long term interests rather than the short term interests of the people who are employed in our name to run them, then perhaps we would not be having the problems and attacks on our pensions that we see now.

We should of course as unison activists be challenging our managers about their investments but the Robin Hood tax would make churn more expensive and also make it far more difficult for fund managers to justify such speculation.

Conference, please support this motion not least because it not only the right thing to do for your conscious but it will also be the right thing to do for your own pocket.

(I don’t think I will use my notebook to read off a conference speech again – during the speech I kept thinking that I was going to press the wrong key and it would crash! not a very nice feeling to have while in front of 1000 plus folk)

UNISON NDC 2010: The Bard of Barking

 This was a great performance at Conference on Thursday by singer/campaigner, Billy Bragg. It started off with a video of Billy confronting the BNP/fascist Councillor and London Assembly member, Richard Barnbrook, on St Georges Day.

Every year Barnbrook dresses as in a suit of armour and pretends to be the patron saint of England, St George. Billy pointed out that in reality, St George had been born in Lebanon and would have not been able to even come to visit England if the BNP immigration polices were in force - never mind be its patron saint! This made Barnbrook look even more stupid than usual. The video also showed up imported BNP yobs accusing Billy of not being from Barking yet he was able to ask them the name of the historic building behind them (the remains of Barking Abbey) and none of them knew what is was called.

Billy pointed out that his home borough of Barking and Dagenham which returned 12 BNP Councillors in 2006 was no more or less racist than your home town. People knock on doors and stir up trouble. The BNP ship activists into the borough purely to cause hate. There use to be 40 000 people working in the Ford’s car factory in Dagenham - now there is only 3 000. This has led to pressures on services and social housing. Immigration is not the true problem - it’s the supply of housing and structures. His parents, like any other immigrants, came to Barking to seek a better life for their children.

He actually had 2 confrontations with Barnbrook. In the 2nd one, Barnbrook said that the ballot box who will show us who is right. The ballot box did. The BNP lost all their seats. Up to a 1000 people per day turned up to campaign against the BNP. The fight is not over. While the “Clash” fans generation know that fascists can be beaten - they will come back. Billy personally thanked everyone for their support in Barking and elsewhere (Stoke) and for working against the English defence League.

Billy lives in west Dorset. There a Tory usually gets elected. In 2005 he helped run a tactical voting campaign. Jim Knight was elected. He was the first Labour Party MP in Dorset since 1960s. In 69% of Consistencies Labour came second to the Tories. Billy voted Lib Dem in his consistency in last election. Tactically it worked well in past but now it has turned and bitten us and ended up with Libcons. Tactical voting is a symptom not a solution. The problem in Barking and Dagenham Labour Party was that they had been in control since 1931. They had been a fine council but under New Labour it was taken for granted. The same thing happened nationally. The Labour Party focused on the 20% of seats with swing voters and left their core vote behind.

Need to listen people and make sure their vote count. If we do have referendum on electoral change then we as a labour movement must embrace it. In West Dorset there are more than 7% labour voters. Fear of trusting the people just helps the BNP. The pluralism from such change would help Mr Angry voter to protest amongst progressive alternatives not the BNP. Look at what has happened in Scotland and Wales. Trust the people.

How do we hold those in economic power to account? In the USA he remembered President George Bush at a G20 meeting calling for everyone to come together and save “democratic capitalism”. Billy is baffled by two other such sets of words often found together. “Military intelligence” and “American football” It deeply annoys him - the idea of “self regulation”. The idea that capitalism is democratic and can be regulated by Bankers. He pointed out that the so-called new government regulatory committee being set up has loads of Bankers on it.

How do we hold those in power over us to account? The way to hold then to account is by organising. Unions need to organise. Bankers have already forgotten what had happened in 2007 and 2008. It is the unions who will have to fight to hold capitalism to account. Political parties change from time to time but organised labour remains solid. This is the modern red edge to the Green politics of Glastonbury.

The whole conference hall then all donned masks and sang along with Billy the Robin Hood anthem in support of a Tobin Tax (see next post). As you do.

UNISON NDC 2010: London Labour Councils agreement on Living wage

This was yet another speech that I was “bumped off” by a point of order before I could deliver it. Such is life. I am really pleased with the recent ground breaking agreement between the affiliated local government unions and the London Labour councils about a living wage for all (picture is of UNISON St George hospital cleaners who won a hugeliving wage” pay rise based upon NHS terms and conditions in 2008).

"President, Conference, John Gray, Housing Association Branch, Greater London Region speaking in favour of Composite D.

In particular I would like to speak in favour of the clauses regarding the campaign for a Living wage. Conference, a campaign for a living wage is not just a London thing - it is a national matter. Across our 4 nations there are many areas with higher than average living costs. UNISON and its predecessor unions helped set up the minimum wage and we are horrified at what the CONDEMS will now do with it. However, it is a minimum wage and not a living wage in any part of the UK.

A living wage is a trade union matter but it is also still a particular UNISON trade union matter. I work for a large public housing organisation in London. In my organisation all directly employed staff are quite rightly paid above a living wage. Yet the contractor workers who clean my office are paid £5.80 per hour. The agency caretakers who are filling temporary vacancies are paid the same. The concierge who provide 24/7 reception and security services in our high rise tower block are also paid a flat rate £5.80 per hour for 12 hours shifts. They work 5 shifts minimum per week and are forced to opt out of the working hours limits. Now there are many branches here today in local government and health who have all workers protected under local or national agreements which pay above the minimum wage but I suspect that most branches will have members or workers entitled to join who are not.

While we will work with other organisations such as faith groups and NGO’s it is our duty and responsibility as trade unionists to make sure that all our workers are paid a living wage. We must also remember that a living wage should not only be around a basic rate of pay but also about maximum working hours, holiday pay, sick pay and pensions. The best way of ensuring that workers are paid a decent living wage is to include or link these workers to the existing national agreements.

Finally conference, some good news for a change with regards the living wage. Despite the horror of May 7th and the formation of the CONDEM government, in London at least we had some good news. Labour in London actually beat the Tories and we won a majority of Councils. What this meant is that Labour took control of London Councils which is the organisation that represents all boroughs.

UNISON Labour link in London has been able to take a lead and negotiate an agreement with Labour councils and local government unions. There are a number of good things in this agreement that that I am sure that most of us will agree on but in particular there is a clause that all these Labour councils will work towards a living wage for all their contractors by getting rid of a 2 tier workforce and getting everyone on the appropriate national terms and conditions. I did think of using this news in the debate on the political fund as an example of what you can achieve with an active and well supported regional Labour link to improve things for all workers. But I hope that all branches and regions will be trying to get similar agreements with their employers.

Conference please support a living wage for all - please support this composite.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010: End of Conference – Goodbye Bournemouth

The UNISON National delegate conference finished at 4pm on Friday. Our President, Gerry Gallagher, was given the traditional very emotional UNISON “goodbye and thanks” - which left him red eyed and saying he would close conference down now since he was sure we didn’t want to see a grown man cry!

Conference will still live on a few more days on this blog as I will still post on some of the debates, fringes and speeches that I didn’t have time to do at the time.

It was actually quite a positive conference and apart from the occasional silliness by the Ultra (disunited) left it went quite smoothly and there were some very good and constructive debates. There was a bit of fuss and bother by some daftey on Wednesday who came to conference wearing a tee-shirt praising someone who had been kicked out of the union by independent lay discipline committees after being accused of let us say – “very serious extremely offensive behaviour” against trade union members (and various other things!). A number of delegates who represented trade union members who had been brave enough to complain against this person (who is now a paid full time SWP official and currently trying to sue the union) naturally objected to this.

There was a “call for unity” by many speakers – which is fair enough but it seemed that for some speakers this unity would only be on the basis that us proles gratefully accepted their leadership and direction over said “unity”. The words “hell and high water” comes to mind with regard to this particular no doubt kind and generous offer.

There was of course a little bit of the usual NEC “bashing and baiting”. But even the sensible left of UNISON London region had a “comradely” disagreement with the NEC over a proposed maximum term of office.

Conference was however solid and united in its opposition to the CONDEM s attempt to decimate our public services. UNISON 1.3 million members are rolling up our collective sleeves, getting ready for a fight, weighing up what is Tory bluster and what they think they can get away with – and what we shall be doing to stop it.

As is my want after close of conference I went off for rest and recuperation in another south coast resort for the weekend, this year, Weymouth in Dorset. Picture is the lovely view from bedroom window on Saturday morning. I recommend the Weymouth fish restaurant “Floods” and the late night Friday (not Saturday) boogie at the “Edinburgh - House of Sounds” bar.

It was all very strange that no-one in Weymouth was at all interested in standing order committee reports, or rule P expulsions (apparently there was some sort of football tournament going on somewhere? :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010: Defending the Local Government Pension Scheme

On Wednesday morning there was a debate on Defending the LGPS.  I posted about this excellent UNISON Labour Link leaflet on the threat to our pensions just before the General Election.

I hope those who claim there was "no difference" between Labour and the Tories are pleased with themselves.

Anyway, below is my speech on motion 18.  I tried to speak on amendment 18.4 which for some reason deleted the call for there to be a single LGPS pension fund in England, Scotland and Wales.  I got "bumped off" by a "point of order... for the question to be put" (went to an immediate vote without hearing all speakers) .

Here is my speech anyway.

 "John Gray, Tower Hamlets LGPS Representative, With Voting Rights!!

I speak from inside the pension machine – I’ve been a UNISON LGPS rep for 14 Years...I’ve watched fund managers come and go – at great expense to our fund....believe me on this

Conference there is going to be a Public Sector Pension Commission. It will look at the future costs of all public pension schemes.

The union needs a specific response to the Commission that deals with the funded element of the LGPS.

Just like the situation in Holland in 1996 when public sector pensions were under threat – what did the unions, employers and government do then? They created a new pension system for public sector workers.
1 fund, 12 sets of benefits, governed by 5 trade union reps and 5 employer reps,

Consultation committees for scheme members, pensioners and employers

That body then created its own fund manager, in-house, low costs, responsible investor, it’s now the 3rd largest pension fund in the world with one objective to pay the members pensions and not fill their own pockets and drive away in the latest Porsche

And conference in 2008 a study looking at reform of pension’s management for state workers in Ontario Canada said “lower investment fees are but one of the many advantages enjoyed by large plans over smaller ones and over individual savers.

Conference its clear, everyone who has tackle this question of costs looks to consolidate funds

In London there are 34 pension funds, all competing with each other, all with at least 8 fund management contracts each, pouring money into the pockets of the City traders.

Why 34 funds? They are an accident of History, a system well past its sell by date.

What counts is the economic power and efficiency when it comes to our funds.....anything less than 1 in each country will cost us money in lost fees and no economic power

Why not 5, why not 10 why not 20?

Because they cost us more to run, wasted money that we cannot afford to throw away now or for future generations

So I ask you to reject 18.04

Let us offer the coming generations a chance to thank us in the future..thank us for having the nous to help save decent pension provision for them

Give us the policy to move forward with a coherent and calculated set of demands...let us tell Pickles in a time of austerity we know how to save money

UNISON Housing Association Conference Blog

This link is rather late - but better late than never!  One of my branch delegates, Mary Powell  has been posting on the UNISON NDC here.

She has kept postings up-to-date (much better than I have) and I will no doubt pinch some of her stuff for this blog later.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How things change? Liberal Democrat Poster 2005

Hat tip thingy Col. Roi

UNISON NDC 2010: Dave Prentis Speech

(Some notes about the General Secretary's speech to conference on Tuesday afternoon – usual health warning about my hurried note taking). Dave started off with a joke about conference clashing with the World cup and how UNISON had tried unsuccessfully to get the football authorities to change their date. This conference is the biggest gathering of public service workers in the world. There were more people at the International rally last night then most unions have delegates at their AGMs.

He affirmed our solidarity with our sister unions in Europe taking to the streets to protest against cuts. He condemned the attack in Gaza and offered support for peace and justice in the Middle East. Dave praised the role of UNISON activists and “Our people” in defeating the BNP and Nick Griffin. The Battle against them continues. There is no place for fascists in councils and in our great union. This is the Centenary of UNISON Welfare. He described Gerry Gallagher the UNISON President as a man of integrity and wished him well in retirement. Thanked activists for work you do for our union. Slogging through meetings and paperwork – putting up with each other (most of the time). There are now 5000 Learning reps. Our Self organised groups. We are slowly, slowly winning equal pay. We will continue until we get equal pay for all. Recruitment is at an all time high. There is a new army of area and local organisers. Strong political and industrial action funds.

On May 7th our world was transformed. We have Tory and Liberal attacks on us. I has a message today for the headline writers in the “The Daily Telegraph” “Your parents wasted the money” on your public school education. You are not that clever - you can’t add up. You claim that it cost each household £4000 per year on public pensions. They got the decimal point wrong. It costs £400 per year. We demand an apology from Clegg and the “Daily Telegraph”. Remember before the election the Tories claimed they have changed. They now want to cut your pay, your pensions and your jobs. It’s “gutting not cutting” our public services. This is not inevitable it is ideological. Tell employers they do have choice. Stop cutting pay and start cutting consultants. Councils stop giving council tax "give away's". Go to Osborne and say make the bankers pay for it. It’s about fairness. The richest 100 people in the UK in the middle of a recession increase their wealth by 30% in one year. The money for one Council CEO is increased by 30% 3 years and a NHS CEO by 7% this year. We have money for war and Trident. Let’s have a Pay freeze for the bankers. If threaten to leave the country. I say let ‘em go. I’ve said before that I will organise a whip round for 1 way ticket out of the UK.

Public services are our jewel in our crown. Those who work with young offenders are as important but are not as poplar as those who provide child care. Who will champion what is right and not what is poplar? This union will. This is our time. Unions were not made for good times but for the bad times - this is why we came about. We are facing a “Perfect storm”. 1000’s are joining every week for protection. They are looking for us for leadership. This is a heavy responsibility. We are where we should be. We cannot tell where it will end. Every hour and every day - this union will protect its members. We will not take us down “dead end alleys. We will not exhaust ourselves in the first few months. Build alliances with other public unions – yes, the CPS and NGOs via our “Million voices” campaign. Only support as leader of the Labour Party candidates who will fight the cuts. Expect Labour Councillors and Councils to do the same. Give full support to any branch who is forced to resort to industrial action to defend jobs. United campaign to fight the pay freeze. If Clegg comes for our pensions then we will ballot for national industrial action.

Don’t get me wrong we are not looking for a fight. We are always prepared do talk and negotiate. That what unions are there for but no one should under estimate us. If this government picks a fight - we are ready. If they pick a fight we will be ferocious defenders of our members. They will not know what hit them. This is not the time to hand our heads. We should stand tall and confident. If we have to fight we are ready - this will be our time this is what we are about.

UNISON NDC 2010: Economy Debate: Motion 70

(I managed to speak during this debate) "President, Conference, John Gray, Housing Associations branch, London Region. Speaking in support of Motion 70.

Conference, organising the union to effectively defend our members is absolutely key, while campaigning and protesting against cuts will also be crucial. But we have also got to carry out one more thing – there is another major battle that we have got to win and that battle is going to be the Battle of Ideas.

It is incredible that due to the massive failure of lassie-faire financial markets a Labour government which for all its faults we see now was progressive, has been kicked out of power and replaced by a free market Tory fundamentalists and their orange book liberals. Not only this - but they have been able to put the blame for the recession on our so called bloated public sector with our so called gold plated pensions.

The truth of the matter is that the government deficit has been caused by huge drop in taxes which was directly caused by recession which in turn was directly caused by the theft and gross reckless incompetence of many of the same supporters and funders of the so called modern compassionate conservatives. It is amazing that we have allowed this argument to become common place even amongst our own members.

Conference we need to win the battle of ideas, we need to explain that if it was not for recent government spending we would now be facing a depression not a recession, we need to face down the pub bores and the daily mail editorials and argue that you do not have to have savage cuts in public spending. There is an alternative argument.

Conference, we need to argue for a rebalanced mixed economy, an economy based on a given belief that public servants delivering accountable public services are a positive and not a negative. That paying benefits for out of work builders while we have 4 million on the housing waiting list is not only a waste of money and people’s lives but is also the wrong way get us to get out of recession. Having multi-millionaires who admit to paying less in taxes than their office cleaners is not the way to raise enough money to pay off government debt. We need to be confident that there is recognised research such as is found in the book “spirit level” that societies that have fair taxes on the better off end up being better societies for all rich and poor.

Finally conference, while debate in this hall is important – the battle of ideas will take place outside in our branches, in our work place with our employers, and crucially in our community. It is of course a battle that we must win. Thank you".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010: “Bullied at work?” fringe

This packed standing room only official UNISON Health & safety fringe was held on Tuesday lunchtime. The fringe was used to launch a new UNISON document on “bullying at work” which is based on recent UNISON surveys and research on bullying. Portsmouth University business school lecturer, Charlotte Raynar was the main guest speaker (left). Nick Green of National Health & Safety Committee was Chair and Hope Daley (National Health & Safety officer) the second speaker. There was also a very personal contribution from a UNISON member who had been badly bullied at work.

There had been a survey on bullying in 1997 and a new one undertaken last year. A definition of bullying (it’s not the only one) used was having “weekly negative experiences” at work. Before only 50% of workers who reported such weekly negative experiences were willing to call this behaviour “bullying”. However in 2009 80% reported it as “bullying”. So the percentage of workers who now recognise they are being bullying had almost doubled. Which I suppose in a strange way is "positive" since it means that the message about what is bullying and that bullying is unacceptable - has got out.

Some interesting analysis about bullying and what to do about it.

When not being bullied 71% said that they would make formal complaint if they were to be bullied in the future. However only 17% of workers who reported being bullied had done so. 82% said if they were bullied they would see a UNISON rep but actually only 37% did in practice.

Only 20% of those who chose to confront a “bully” thought it had resolved the situation. Which is very low but only 5.9% of those who went to HR thought it resolved anything. Charlotte thought that in some cases when workers reported bullies to HR it ended up being treated as a performance management matter about the worker who complained! Those who made formal complaint thought it was resolved in only 15%. Surprising only 17% of those who had taking out collective grievances thought that it had worked but in this case Charlotte reported that in 1997 such grievances were very rare.

The price of bullying is clear. Workers being bullied suffer depression, stress, suffer lack of confidence and 28% of people leave work directly due to bullying.

Recession and the possible (probable) £34 billion in cuts will result in “negative behaviours” going up? Yes! Bullying is inefficient means of management. Doesn’t make them work harder. This is not just a HR issue this is a "people issue".

Next was Suzanne who was a UNISON member who had been bullied at work by a group of workers who made her life a misery. They made her life seem like “torture”. She put up with it for 2 years. She then reported it to her line manager who agreed that she was being bullied but did nothing. She went to UNISON. Who eventually got Thompsons solicitors involved. Lack of training and understanding by managers is the reason why bullying is “allowed” to carry on. Her managers were redeployed and don’t manage people anymore. She spoke movingly about how she used to be a very confident person but the bullying at the time made her cry all the time.

Hope Daley also spoke about the survey results and UNISON response. Apart from the research and the new policy document UNISON have introduced a specially designed one day course for activists on bullying. There is also new literature and campaign materials. Anti-bullying action should also be used to recruit new members and reps. 80% of members want specific legislation on tackling bullying. UNISON will press for this. Many employer policies on bullying are over 10 years old and not effective. UNISON will be pressing the HSE and the Council enforcement bodies to serve improvement notices about inadequate policies and risk assessments.

In the Q&A I asked whether or not the survey could identify if there was more bullying amongst UNISON members in the private sector (or who work with private contractors) since our branch often comes across “life on Mars” attitudes towards bullying by some private sector managers (it didn’t identify where members worked).

One delegate present told us that she was a former HR officer who was now a union rep. She was very critical of some of her former colleagues. She said she had joined HR because she thought it was a “caring profession”. She said that to be a good HR officer you need tremendous character and need to draw a line and stand up and say “no” to managers.

Finally, Charlotte reminded everyone one of the more positive outcomes of the research was that you are more likely to deal successfully with the abuse if you deal firmly with it on the first or second occasion. If you let the bullying go on for more times without doing anything then it is far more difficult to deal with it. So UNISON must encourage members to go to their reps as soon as there is a problem and the rep must deal with it quickly and firmly. Food for thought.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010 – Tuesday morning

I started the first day at conference with a glorious early morning jog in the sunshine along West Cliff headlands,  I went as far as the Tropical Gardens then back along the beach towards the Pier. The branch secretary of Waltham Forest and assistant branch secretary of Havering passed me bye at a great pace (they are real runners – nothing personal I am sure :).

Back at the hotel I carried on writing a speech, then had a spot of breakfast then more speech writing followed by a walk down to Bournemouth International Centre for NDC 2010 and a 10am start.

This morning’s business started off with the President’s address; Standing orders committee reports (no real bun fight for a change – just a little  local difficulty with Somerset). Next was the annual report and UNISON accounts. There was a good debate on Social Care which I watched in the UNIZONE while finishing off a speech. There was then apparently some excitement on the conference floor over PFI and ultra left grandstanding - but I missed it – typical.

During lunch I went to the anti-bullying health and safety fringe (see next post)

Monday, June 14, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010: John Gray - Lambeth UNISON branch pin-up

Tomorrow (Tuesday) UNISON begins its National Delegate Conference in Bournemouth.

I will hopefully blog and even twitter on a regular basis during conference.  I thought that I will mark the occasion by posting this picture with me (middle back row) and comrades from my third favourite UNISON branch, Lambeth Local Government, at last year’s conference which was published in their June branch newsletter :)

Sorry to see that their former branch secretary “thumbs up” Nick is no longer an officer of the branch. He will be missed at conference.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

UNISON Local Government Conference 2010

This is the first time for many years that I am not at the UNISON Local Government conference either as a delegate or visitor. Due to recent internal union constitutional changes those of us who work in the housing association and voluntary sector have been moved out of the Local Government organisational umbrella into a the new “Community” Service group.

Our conference will be held in Telford in November which I am sure will be just as nice as sunny Bournemouth!

In the meanwhile UNISONactive is posting here on the action and debates at this year’s local government conference. Picture (left) is from the last time we were at Bournemouth in 2008.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stephen Timms MP “thank you” Party

 Last night I was invited to a “thank you” party organised by East Ham CLP for their MP, Stephen Timms, and local Labour supporters for their contribution to his recent election victory.

Stephen now has the largest majority in the Country but also they wanted to welcome him back after the recent horrific knife attack on him while he was carrying out a Parliamentary surgery 4 weeks ago.

Stephen had been stabbed twice in the stomach but is now walking, moving and talking with no real visible signs of his injuries. He told the packed meeting that he felt much better but could become a little tired. He thanked everyone for all the cards and messages of support – a “tide of good will” and especially his wife and Mum!  I filmed most of Stephen’s speech and will upload it to YouTube later.

Stephen had invited as guest speaker Ed Miliband who he is supporting for the Labour Party leadership. Ed gave a cracking speech which I will post upon soon.

UPDATE: now on YouTube here

Friday, June 11, 2010

UNISON NDC fringe - Socially just solution to the global economic crisis

This conference fringe on social justice and promoting an alternative to CONDEM savage cuts should be really interesting.

I assume that it will also complement the planned speech to conference on the Thursday morning by Richard Wilkinson about his book (co-authored) “The Spirit Level - Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Made In Dagenham

This is a mover trailer for a new BBC film made about women who worked as machinists for the car company Ford in the 1960’s and who successfully fought for equal pay with men. I haven’t seen the film but bearing in mind my previous post will SERTUC women’s committee one day be also organising walking tours around the Ford Motor plant in Dagenham? I do hope so sometime soon. I do like this historical connection between now(ish) and then.

Battling Belles of Bow

This walking tour “The Battling Belles of Bow” is organised by SERTUC who ask colleagues to: “follow in the footsteps of Sylvia Pankhurst who chose east London as the starting point for her campaign for women's suffrage and seeing the plight of the working women and mothers also established a crèche, restaurant and model toy factory in the area. East End women were key to the success of the Suffragette movement and the route highlights their supporters and their workplaces including the Bryant & May Match Factory, site of the famous Match girls' strike of 1888”

I’ve worked as an Estate Officer in Bow, East London - for nearly 20 years. Firstly at a local housing office in Malmesbury Road where I once managed George Lansbury House and was also responsible for a time for the maintenance of Minnie Lansbury clock in nearby Electric House. Our estate also had properties in Fairfield Road where the privately run “gated community” called “Bow Quarter” is on the site of the original Bryant & May Factory.

Then I worked 300m away in another estate office in Armagh Road which was only around the corner from 1915 Sylvia Pankhurst clinic at “Gun Makers Arms “and the Suffragette meeting point now called the “Lord Morpeth “pub. I am now based right in the centre of Bow near the famous Roman Road Market.

This walk seems well worth a fiver!

Oh well, never mind... let’s have a nice cup of tea

Coming home from work last night I found out by letter from the ERS that I had lost the election to be the London rep to the new UNISON "Community" Service Group.

Congratulations to my former branch secretary (Housing Association) Mary Powell, who was clearly elected for the General seat with 327 votes, also to Charlie Hore (Voluntary Organisations branch) who got 285 while I came third (aka last!) with 265.

Which, while recognising a defeat is a defeat, it is not that bad and something to learn and build upon in the future.

Turnout was as usual pretty poor at 9.1% (9,704 eligible voters) but considering this is the first such "Community" election and most regions either had no nominations for seats or only one candidate at least we had a contest.

I have had a good run of success in elections recently so I will take the rough with the smooth and as usual in these circumstances it is best to just have a nice cup of tea made strictly in accordance to the instructions of Mr Blair.

PS Just think – John McDonnell and I will from now on think of June 9 and actually have something in common.

See: it is true that every cloud has a silver lining :)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Rant alert! Fund Managers vs Unions

Great rant from the bearded one at Labour & Capital blog - Enjoy!

"A few years ago, when I was still working at Congress House, I had a lunch (not an expensive one I should add) with a fund manager. I actually quite enjoyed talking with someone with a very different perspective on some of the things that I bang on about. But one topic of conversation really grated, and it has stuck with me to this day - BA.

What irritated me was the fund manager's assertion that BA was overmanned and its staff overpaid. It's an assertion that gets repeated by asset managers in a lot of the coverage of the current strike. Now I don't pretent to know the ins and outs of the airline industry, or how BA compares to other airlines. But I am sure that BA staff deliver a real, tangible service. The contrast with fund management could not be more obvious. Good, I'm glad you agree. But let's to be clear on a few specifics.

If you remove BA staff, the airline will not operate, the planes won't fly and no-one will serve you a delicious (sick) in-flight meal. In fund management, you could just use a computer programme and get broadly the same result, this is after all the index-tracking business in a nutshell. Secondly, the service that BA customers receive is provided by the BA staff. The pilots fly you, the ground crew make sure the plane can fly, the cabin crew look after you during the flight. In fund management the service - the returns - is ultimately provided by someone else, the people working in the companies whose shares you hold via the manager.

It never ceases to amaze me how people seem to have this implicit view that fund managers generate returns. Actually what they do is select coupons (they don't invest money 'in' companies), and week in week out many of them are paid very highly for doing this worse than a computer programme could.

This shouldn't surprise us either. Effectively employing fund managers is like paying someone to go on Deal Or No Deal and choose the boxes for you. The future is as unknowable as the contents of Noel's boxes, and the historic results of active asset managers demonstrate this rather well. Pension funds and other asset owners might - as Paul Woolley suggests - be better off doing it all themselves, as they used to for much lower costs.

I'm sure a lot of people won't sympathise with the BA strikers, I do. But at least next time you read some fund manager telling you that BA needs to cut its costs remember that part of your pension is being needlessly shovelled their wallet. People need airlines to undertake air travel, professional fund management on the other hand is arguably an entirely unnecessary industry.

UNISON NDC London fringe - Struggle for workers rights in Latin America

Its UNISON National Delegate conference time.  "The Struggle for workers rights in Latin America - What the Tory Coalition Means for International Solidarity" is the Greater London, Northern and Scotland fringe.

Thursday 17 June 5.15pm at the Bournemouth International centre.

Michael Gove going for a trip in Downing Street

hat-tip Col. Roi:)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ken for Mayor 2012

I got this email this evening - it's a rather good "positive and unifying" message (IMO)  -

"I'm writing to let you know about my decision to run for Labour's nomination to be Mayor of London.

These are going to be tough times for Britain and London. I want to be
mayor for one overriding reason. If I am elected my focus will be to
do everything I can to protect Londoners from the recession and the
effects of the government's policies.

The global economic crisis, a fragile recovery that may go double-dip,
and a government removing billions from the economy and planning cuts
on a scale that Britain has not seen for decades, mean the mayor's priority must be to protect Londoners. These are serious times that require serious politics. I will aim to use every lever to make sure our quality of life is protected and improved. Not a mayor who spends his time defending bankers and instead one who will use Mayoral budgets and powers to protect ordinary Londoners.

My priority will be to protect public services in London, create new jobs, make the streets safer, defend our safer neighbourhood police teams, hold down fares, and build more affordable housing

I launched my campaign last week in Croydon, a borough that has had its share of the sharp end of Boris Johnson's policies, with big bus and tram fare increases and cuts to transport infrastructure plans. My
aim, if selected as Labour's candidate, is to work with Labour in all of London's boroughs to ensure we have the most effective possible campaign to win London back in 2012.

In the last few days since campaigning started we have been able to draw in support from across London and at all levels of the party, including Labour group leaders

Liam Smith (Barking and Dagenham), Catherine West (Islington), Paul Dimoldenberg (Westminster),

Tony Newman (Croydon), Julian Bell (Ealing), Claire Kober (Haringey), and Stephen Cowan

(Hammersmith and Fulham).

The campaign has received strong trade union backing over the weekend, with the support of the GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny.

Tottenham MP David Lammy will chair my campaign, and I have appointed a Young Labour member, Veronica King, as the first of my vice chairs because I am committed to involving Labour's younger members as we work to take back London.

To see more supporters and to find out more about the campaign you can visit:

Over the coming weeks, if I am shortlisted, I will be debating and discussing the ideas that London needs to take us forward in harder economic times. Some of these are already being set out on my campaign website where you can also contact the campaign team. If you'd like to support my campaign you can become an endorser by using the form at

I look forward to listening to what you have to say and to contributing to what I hope will be a really positive and unifying campaign to help Labour build on the borough election victories this year so that we can take back City Hall for progressive politics.

Yours sincerely

Ken Livingstone

(picture from East Ham in 2008 - so far only Ken and Oona are definitely putting themselves forward)

"It's Going To Ruin Us"

Excellent Aussie trade union video from the same mob that brought us this. Great stuff! I must admit to not knowing all that much about the local issue but every single advance for workers which we now take for granted was attacked as being "ruinous" at the time.

Reminds me a bit of this argument as well.

Hat-tip thingy to Eric Lee and Labourstart. Pass it on.

Monday, June 07, 2010

UNISON in London Summer 2010 Magazine

This morning in the post I received the latest version of “UNISON in London”.

This is our newsletter for stewards and activists in Greater London region. You should be soon able to download it here.

Some of the top stories are Dave Prentis on The New Tory-Lib Dem government; Notting Hill Trust Dispute and UNISON Parliamentary reception; impressive recruitment figures for London; Labour Landslide in London and a report on “Workers Memorial Day” .

When Wales saved Britain from Revolution

Last Bank Holiday weekend in the Tardis like “Royal Oak Inn” Fishgard, South Wales I spied a poster claiming that Wales (and Welsh women in particular!) had saved Britain from “revolution”.

This very same “pub” was indeed the site of surrender negotiations between French officers and those from the much smaller local Welsh militia and yeomanry following the last invasion of Britain in February 1797. When 1400 well armed Revolutionary troops under direct orders from the Paris Directory were sent to spark a Welsh uprising and to try and size Liverpool then London.

The working classes were to be encouraged to rebel; Britain’s trade was to be dislocated and French prisoners of war liberated, causing such chaos as to make the invasion of Britain possible”

The French were initially planning to invade Ireland with 15,000 troops (which didn’t take place) and while they intended this attack at Wales (or Bristol) to be part of a diversionary attack they also hoped that there would start a revolution amongst the local population.

On 22 February 1797 4 French warships landed17 boatloads of troops, 47 barrels of powder, 50 tons of cartridges and grenades and 2,000 stands of arms”. You can walk the 3 miles from Fishguard to the invasion point at Carreg Wastad which is all simply stunningly beautiful. There is a memorial to the invasion on the headland (see picture of moi). Last week it was entirely peaceful with the only excitement being a family of grey seals basking on the rocks in the sunshine.

There was no opposition to the landing and the French quickly seized strong defensive points from which it would have been very difficult to dislodge them. However, the expected “Revolution” never happened? Instead of supporting or even joining the revolutionary troops there was a series of bitter and bloody skirmishes between them and local Welsh inhabitants.

This was a dangerous time for the British government of the time. Later that year the Royal Navy mutinied twice and the news of the invasion caused a run on the Bank of England which forced them to suspend the payment of gold and instead they issued £1 bank notes for the first time!

Despite income disparity being far worse in this part of Wales than anywhere else in Britain and Ireland and the relatively recent Pembrokeshire bread riots there appeared to be no support locally for  “revolution”. The French hardly helped matters with many of their troops getting drunk, ransacking and burning local farms and churches (see the picture of Llandwna Church which had its papers and bibles burnt) while trying to “live off the land”.

In other parts of Europe the invading French revolutionary armies had been welcomed as liberators. Not so in Wales? There is probably a mass of reasons for this apart from a xenophobic fear of French Johnny foreigner. The rise of religious non conformity in Wales may have given the revolutionaries hope but most dissenters were probably at the time more keen than most to prove their loyalty to the Crown for fairly obvious reasons. Of course the patriotic conservatism (with a small c) of the British working class is one of its most enduring and defining features. At the end there are accounts of hundreds of locals turning up to fight the invader (as with their descendants in 1940) armed with primitive farm weapons.

There are two further stories that I love about this moment in our history. Firstly it seems that one of the reasons for the French surrender was “There is strong evidence that the French were deceived by the appearance in the neighbourhood of large numbers of local womenfolk wearing the traditional dress of red shawls and black hats, which at a distance resembled infantry uniforms”. It is clear that the French for whatever reason actually surrendered to vastly inferior number of troops. Secondly “The heroine of the hour” Jemima Nicholas, (see picture) who with her pitchfork, went out single-handedly into the fields around Fishguard and rounded up 12 French soldiers and 'persuaded' them to return with her to town where she locked them inside St Mary's Church.

Apart from the history lesson Pembrokeshire is just breath taking countryside, with superb coastal and hill walks - well worth a visit.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Education Cuts “Day of Dissent” 21 June 2010

As was posted here – Monday 21 June 2010 has been designated by all the unions with members in Further and Higher Education as a “Day of Dissent” against proposed cuts.

Today millions of pounds in cuts are being demanded (and this is existing Labour government approved cuts not likely future Con Dem cuts). Thousands of jobs are now at risk

Further information and campaign information here and here.

Double click on image to bring up details

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Hunting, Shooting and Killing

I don’t know why a lone gunman murdered 12 people yesterday and shot another 11 before killing himself. In fact we may never really know for sure? Only two things are pretty certain. One - he will turn out to be some sort of bitter and twisted obsessive loner (as in Hungerford and Dunblane) and two – he had access to guns.

While I am sure that there are a lot of things that we can do better in the “community” to identify and prevent such people harming others or themselves the only sure way to reduce the number of similar incidents is to reduce the number of lethal weapons out there.

Why do we allow individuals to legally hold sniper rifles with telescopic sights capable of multiple homicides? According to the BBC here in England and Wales there are 138,728 people certificated to hold firearms and they own 435,383 weapons. (There are also 574,946 shotgun certificates which cover 1.4 million shotguns). 138 000 people – 435 000 weapons??? I used to target shoot when I was younger and I am sure that the vast overwhelming majority of folk who do shoot are decent and rational people. But with the best will and best laws in the world this is a ticking bomb and unless we have change further mass murders will just take place again, again and again. Just look what happens across the pond in the USA.

Or are we saying that this is a price worth paying for a minority of people to exercise their democratic right to enjoy their hobbies and traditions?

Today, I indulged in my own personal hobby of hill walking. Now it is conceivable that I may be able to do someone grievous bodily harm with my Brasher boots or Swiss army penknife but when hill walking I am incapable no matter how insane (discuss) of mass indiscriminate murder.

I hope the new Tory Minister for “Hunting and Shooting” (yes of course they have appointed one) Jim Paice will do what’s right and proper and just dramatically slash the number of such weapons in our society.

I won’t wait up.

Picture is from Shooting Times - its digital sample - I assume they will have the decency to take it down some time soon.