Monday, January 31, 2011

Our NHS, Our Future: Oppose the Health & Social Care Bill

Today (Monday 31 Jan) there will be the second reading at the House of Commons of the The Health and Social Care Bill.  Nurses at St. George's Hospital in Tooting, South London demonstrate support for our NHS.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rosie the Riveter - RIP

"Geraldine Hoff Doyle of Lansing, Mich., the woman behind an iconic image of a bandana-clad, muscle-flexing Rosie the Riveter during World War II died last month. Doyle was 86 upon her death, a lifetime older than the 17-year-old factory worker who was captured in a United Press International photo in a metal-pressing plant near Ann Arbor.

Her photo was later used by the U.S. War Production Coordinating Committee in an illustrated poster called, “We Can Do It!”. The poster was designed to encourage other women to enter the workforce in support of the war effort but has grown to become a pop-culture icon of women’s equality".

Hat tip Maturin

Council budgets and unallocated reserves in London

"Dear Jon
I am responding on behalf of the council administration. I appreciate your appeal is sent in the spirit of a constructive suggestion, and I will respond in the same vane.

Firstly, Labour councillors are as angry about the Tory led Coalition Government’s attack on local government as Unison is, and as I am sure all Lambeth employees are. None of us came into politics to cut services or withdraw from helping the vulnerable in our community. But we can’t ignore the reality of our funding being cut by a third amounting to £79 million over three years. As a responsible administration elected in May with a strong mandate from Lambeth residents, we have a duty to them to deliver a balanced and legal budget to enable the council to continue to serve the most vulnerable and deliver basis services. As Labour politicians we will of course also do everything in our power to fight back against the government cuts agenda (as you say, to make them adopt an alternative economic strategy) or cause a General Election.

Secondly, on the issue of reserves. The argument you are putting to us is the same as Coalition Government ministers have been making. They are implying it is a ‘choice’ council’s have, namely, the Government has drastically cut funding to councils by a third so we should use reserves to fill the gap created by them. This is rank hypocrisy on their part given they are creating the most risky financial environment for public services since the creation of the welfare state. In this environment financial reserves are needed more than ever.

Lambeth’s ‘General Fund Reserves’ as at 31st March 2010 were as you state £28.1m. You don’t need to be an accountant to understand that the purpose of a ‘general reserve’ is to give some measure of financial cushion to absorb unexpected disasters or funding emergencies. The general professional ‘rule of thumb’ has been a general reserve of +/- 10% of our net budget, which for Lambeth currently means about £30m. Last financial year alone Lambeth has two service areas, Temporary Accommodation and Parking that overspent £10 million – it was only with good overall financial management that other service areas under spent to cover this, needing a £3 million call on reserves. Given Lambeth provides approximately 600 services, you can see how financial risks can arise unexpectedly, and had it not been for our ability to absorb the shock, we might have had to close a service down completely.

Thirdly, as regard financial risks the council is carrying. The risk assessment around delivering £37 million Government cuts package is estimated at about 20%, which may need a call on reserves; we may be forced to lose over 1,000 jobs with the consequent redundancy costs, which the Government is not paying for; there still could be unexpected disasters or emergencies; there is a risk that the Council may overspend this year by some £4m (although I have been tough with managers that they need to manage within their budgets); and there is also a low probability of any under spends that could be added to reserves. The overall conclusion is we need some ‘reserves’ to enable us to absorb financial shocks and help deliver transformation in the future.

Fourth, our accounts & reserves are subject to rigorous challenge by the District Auditor, External Auditor and we receive professional advice from the Council’s Section 151 officer (Chief Financial Officer) in regard to the level of reserves. The council will now be carrying a significant level of new financial risk and for that reason we need to structurally reduce what we spend to match our funding from government. All using reserves does is buy you a little time, not replace or resolve the structural funding problem.

Finally, be careful how you interpret the figures you quote – I am told that Wandsworth Council only a few years ago was told off by the District Auditor for having £600 million (yes, £600,000,000 – 200% of their net budget in ‘unallocated reserves’!) and boroughs like K&C had 100’s of millions, both due to their ‘Thatcher endowment’ in the late 1980’s, which has rigged the local government funding formula in their favour for decades. We can only guess how this money has been ‘reclassified’ or spent!

Hope this helps you understand were we are coming from on this issue.

Best regards,

Paul McGlone
Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources"

(Guest post by Citizen Smith)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What will you do when I'm gone?

"..Gave away our nursing jobs to some private company
They say it will be cheaper, but this much I am sure
For the people that I care for, profit is not the cure"

This superb anti-privatisation video was produced by Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).  I am afraid that it may well apply to our own NHS if the ConDems get away with their plans to dismantle and privatise it.

Hat tip Tynesider

Friday, January 28, 2011

Transforming Labour: Newham Compass event 10 March

The Newham branch of Compass are holding another event on Thursday 10 March. 

Starting 8pm at the West Ham Supporters Club in Castle Street, E6 1PP. 

This is also where Newham trade union council use to meet for many years.

Local East Ham MP Stephen Timms and Gavin Hayes (Compass) will lead a debate on "A Charter for Party Renewal? Transforming Labour".

There have been two previous Compass in Newham events here and here.

You can get copies of the Compass pamphlet by contacting one of the organisers Christopher (see flyer - double click to bring up details).  Let him know if you are going so he will know how many to expect.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

London Labour Housing Group Launch

Last night’s launch of the London Labour Housing Group went really well. The Grand Committee room was overflowing with people. Standing room only.

Great speeches and a great debate about housing issues (both in the committee room and the pub afterwards).

Including new Shadow Housing minister, Alison Seabeck MP who addressed the meeting.

I’ll post properly on the event over the weekend.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nurses Vote on Action to Stop Cuts at St Georges Hospital

"Four hundred Theatre Nurses and Practitioner members of health care union UNISON at St Georges hospital, South London, have started balloting in an “indicative” ballot that could, if agreed lead to official industrial action at St Georges by nurses for the first time in twenty three years.

UNISON the health care union has been angered at the plans to implement Tory Led Government health cuts at St Georges Hospital, Tooting. In particular nurses and technical staff are angry at the decision to press ahead with major changes to the rotas, duties and pay of four hundred Theatre nurses and practitioners.

These changes  would see staff suffer pay cuts, day staff forced to work night duty and some of those with childcare commitments forced to quit Theatres. This means the loss of many dedicated and experienced NHS staff. Nursing Staff (many of whom are women) will also be forced to work a late shift which finishes at 10pm, forcing them to make their way back home across London in the dark.

UNISON Regional Officer Michael Walker condemned the move and stated:-
 “When this Government of millionaires are telling hard pressed professional Theatre nurses that they need to cut their pay, work nights and walk home late at night, you can understand why nursing staff are so angry.

 “It would seem that the Government and some managers have totally lost all understanding of compassion and fairness in the way they treat dedicated nurses, in their quest to implement Government cuts to the NHS.”

UNISON Branch Secretary Geoff Thorne states :-
“It is regrettable that, despite UNISON’s best efforts to resolve these issues, it now looks inevitable that we are heading towards industrial action by nurses and practitioners, a situation created by management’s refusal to sit down and discuss child care and pay protection arrangements.

UNISON will now be waging a vigorous campaign in the community, and amongst consultants and NHS professionals at the hospital to highlight the plight of dedicated NHS nurses and staff at St Georges Hospital.”

UNISON Nursing Convenor Jane Pilgrim stated:-
“I remain hopeful that even at this late stage, we can still sit down and resolve the outstanding issues affecting nursing staff so that patients can continue to receive high quality services,”

Management at St Georges have left nursing and professional staff in a very invidious position where they either allow management to significantly cut the pay and conditions or they are reluctantly take some form of industrial action”.  

Hat-tip UNISON press release.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Heart's in the Highlands

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer,
A-chasing the wild deer and following the roe
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go!

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North
The birthplace of valour, the country of worth!
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love

Farewell to the mountains high cover'd with snow
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods!
Tune - The Musket Salute

Hope you have had a good Burns Nicht. Picture taken in Cairngorms August 2006. 

(this year I wasn't able to serve work colleagues my traditional haggis lunch today while explaining how I had personally hunted and prepared this "Great chieftain o' the puddin-race" according to an ancient Gray family recipe - but hopefully I will be able to do so soon.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

LAPFF Conference 2010: Diversity by Laura Liswood

Still playing catch up on my posts from last year. I did enjoy Laura Liswood, a senior American consultant with Goldman Sachs, talk on “Diversity”.

Her basic argument is that there is a compelling business case for Diversity. If you add someone with the same background to a group you get some improvement but it you add someone with a different background you get more. Transgender Ben is better than Sister Barbara. Why was Stephen Hawkins able to make so many breakthroughs in physics? This is because most physicists write down their ideas on paper. Stephen does it all in his head. He imagines problems. No linear thinking.

Member of dominant group in our society are thought to be competent until proved to be incompetent. Member of non-dominant groups are assumed to be incompetent until proved otherwise. Compare what happens to women who tell their boss they are pregnant with a man who tells his boss that he has joined TA and could be sent to Afganistan.

Why is it that only 16% of all men are over 184cm in height but 57% of the male top 500 CEO's are taller? There is no research whatsoever that proves leadership ability is due to your skeletal structure. Conformation basis. If you believe women play classical music less well. If you think she may make more mistakes, is less strong and less forceful. When you think this and watch – you notice the mistakes. In blind auditions for orchestra’s behind screens, the number of women has gone up by 20%.

Why is it if you ask 11 year girls what they would feel if they were to become a boy tomorrow they would go ugh but be positive about climbing trees, riding bike and getting dirty... but if you ask a 11 year boy about becoming a girl tomorrow - it is the worst thing ever. Why is there this change from 0-11?

There are two powerful myths in all cultures. One is the heroic journey where they seek to find a Holy grail. They may get in trouble along the way but will come back victorious. This is the plot for 99% of Hollywood movies. The second myth is the rescue or rescue me myth. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The oldest version of the tale can be traced to 9th century China.

The most dangerous weapon you can use is words. Laura became a US reserve police officer after 9/11 (as you do). Words are verbal judo. As a Police officer late at night outside bars she can wind up situations or calm them down. In India if you give long answers to questions you tend to get higher grades. In the USA they say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Japan the nail that sticks out gets hit on the head. While in China the loudest duck gets shot. In the West girls are taught by their Grandma that if you can’t say anything nice - don’t say it. Men are more subtlety advantaged. They are subject to positive illusion. Tell a man that he should become a MP and he would answer, "yes, of course I should, why did it take you so long to realise"?

I asked Laura a question about her putting forward a powerful business case for diversity but surely it is essentially a moral and political point. She replied “whatever rocks your boat”.

As you can see from pictures of the conference LAPFF needs to do more about diversity but well done for putting on this keynote presentation.  I suspect that Goldman Sachs has quite a bit of work to do on this matter as well.

The Tragic Launch of HMS Albion

"On 21 June 1898 the public launch of the warship HMS Albion at Blackwall in London was attended by over 30,000 spectators.

It was to become one of the worst peacetime disasters in Thames history. The Duchess of York (later Queen Mary) tried 3 times to break the champagne bottle on the steel hull but it just bounced off. When the launch finally went ahead, the ship rumbled into the water and created a mini-tidal wave that caused a gangway to collapse and swept spectators into the river. Thirty eight people drowned and repercussions were felt in the local community for a long time to come.

During the morning session, historian’s Chris Ellmers (founder of Museum in Docklands) and John Graves (curator of Ship History at the National Maritime Museum) will lay out the wider historical context and social significance of this momentous tragedy.

The event was recorded by early film makers and work survives from two figures, R.W. Paul and E.P. Prestwich. Prestwich filmed from a high altitude and Paul shot his footage from a boat while his fellow crew were allegedly rescuing people from the water. When RW Paul exhibited his work soon after the disaster it became a source of bitter controversy.

BFI Silent Film curator Bryony Dixon will illuminate early film history and the key figures at the centre of this momentous event. Patrick Keiller (artist and director of London, Robinson in Space, Robinson in Ruins) will consider why this event captured his interest and imagination and why he decided to include it in his acclaimed exhibition, The City of the Future. The films are a key moment in early cinema and raise important moral questions. Finally, a speaker from the British Board Film Censorship will consider the wider debate around regulations that would begin over a decade later.

Details of this event are on-line at :"

Interesting bit of East End history.  Hat-trip SERTUC

UPDATE: Check out this contemporary report in the East Ham Echo Hat-tip Newham Story

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Netroots UK 2011 - Beyond Obama: Stories and lessons from across the pond.

I know that posting late about new media events is a little bit shameful and definitely uncool, however my view is better late than never. This was one of the 5 lunchtime fringes on offer at this month’s successful Netroots conference. This fringe was facilitated by our American cousins Julielyn Gibbons (i3 principles) and (another) John.

This was a very relaxed and laid back fringe. Julielyn introduced videos from the Community pressure group “Promise Arizona”. Whose aim was to turn out the Latino vote in Arizona with some very simple but effective grass root home grown videos. They also featured the British “Fair Votes” campaign around PR and navy veteran “Ralph’s story”. The key question is “What’s working”? the answer is simple messages...Humanisation of issue...Political opportunity...Off line and on line organising...Creativity...Integrated organisation...Positivity...Knowing your audience...Coalition building (coalition ugly word nowadays)....Genuine grassroots not just singular individuals (which I think is the biggest challenge for some organisations).

An example of a simple but potentially effective message about Climate Change is “Fossil fuels kill soldiers”. There was a contribution from the floor from someone who works for a charity that campaigns for children in the developing world. To raise funds and consciousness do you show adverts which feature a baby dying or dead? or do you show the Lazarus effect and how if they have the money to buy drugs and doctors they can save baby lives?

I know which one I would support.

This is what Tories do...So why are you surprised they are selling our forests?

Hat-tip to Country Standard blog for this report about the Condems plan to privatise 15% of the land (correction it is now not 15% but all of our land) owned by the Forestry Commission. 

Someone I met today, a traditional Tory supporter, was absolutely outraged by this plan and flabbergasted that the government is even thinking of doing this.  Err...Yeah, but...

This sort of stunned outrage is becoming quite commonplace.  Non-political friends and family, work colleagues, union members and even union activists will come up to me and in detail express their shock and horror at the latest vile proposal or act of this government.  Well...yes, but didn't you say you were not voting at the election since they were "all the same"?

My stock response is Err yes...but this what Tories do, surely you know this? Obviously not.  Even from those who like me lived through the 1980's appear shocked.

I even had someone banging the drum about this 'orrible government who before the General Election told me that Mr Cameron is a "nice man" who should be given a chance!!!!

Much, much worse recently I heard a paid union official slag off Labour Party controlled Councils while justifiably complaining bitterly about cuts and job losses and yet never uttered a single word of criticism about the government...FFS - what is going on here?

To be honest I am getting just a little bit fed up with all this.  We told people what to expect if the Tories got in and 71% of people didn't believe us.  We have to accept responsibility for losing the election but those who voted against us or did not vote have got to accept responsibility as well for what is happening.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bangladesh: Free Moshrefa Mishu

I've just sent an email via Labourstart to various Bangladesh government and Police bodies about the arrest of Moshrefa Mishu, President of the Garment Workers Unity Forum (GWUF).

Check out details on screen print.

Click here to send protest emails.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Frippery: Militant John and the Labour Attack Puppies

You couldn't make this up but the Newham toryminitrue site run by thin-skinned Tory, Neil "Skinhead" Pearce, is accusing moi of being a Labour "attack dog".  As if.

Apparently "Militant John" has "orchestrated" a letter writing "crusade" against this 'orrible ConDem government in the letter pages of the Newham Recorder.  To think I would do such a thing while being West Ham Labour Party agent! How completely outrageous a suggestion!

What stuff and nonsense.  As agent maybe I should have organised a campaign but the truth of the matter is that I have sent one letter to the Newham Recorder complaining about an abusive one that Pearce had sent them about our West Ham MP, Lyn Brown and his hypocritical attempts to score political points at the expense of Remembrance Day services. I have not had any knowledge or involvement in any other letters to the Newham Recorder.  These letters I think actually reflect genuine anger by local residents about this silly Tory attempt to make political capital out of the sacrifice of our armed forces and how they detest this government. Nothing to do with me - Guv.

Apparently, according to Minitrue, some Labour Party bods also don't like me being so 'orrible about Pearce and his Newham Tories! tut, tut..come off it - how stupid does Pearce and Toryminitrue think people are?  What planet do these Tory numpties actually live on?  People expect Labour to attack the Tories.  Especially when they leave such open goals.

BTW I think Newham Tories will do very well in Planet United Left - their natural home :)

(picture is of young Militant John launching one of his Labour attack puppies at somebody's ankle)

John's Labour blog 200,000 visitors

Last night according to Site meter I had my 200,000 visitor to this blog since Feb 22 2007.

I posted this in December 2008 when it was 50,000 "The readership is tiny compared to some other blogs but as long as I enjoy posting I will keep it up.

I admit that I do indulge myself from time to time. Some think I am being divisive, others think that I pull too many punches.

But there is room in the “bloggersphere” for a centre left Labour movement blog that offers critical support to the Party and commentates at times vigorously on trade union, political and economic issues. This is my aim anyway....The message of course should remain more important than the medium".

Thank you for visiting.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TUC Trustee Pensions Conference 2010: “Shareholder Resolutions”

This post is yet another very late "catch-up".  The  annual TUC Pension Conference is the "Trustee" event of the year.  It was held at Congress House in London on 22 November 2010 and was packed out.

I missed most of the morning due to a regional committee meeting and came in during the end of the Stewardship Panel Q&A. 
I then went to a workshop on “Shareholder Resolutions” led by Tom Powdrill from PIRC, the notoriously shy and retiring UNISON National Capital Stewardship officer, Colin Meech and Unite National officer, Jack Clarke (see above left to right).

Tom explained that in December 2010 fund managers must explain why not or publish their voting record at the AGM’s of the companies whose shares they “hold” on behalf of investors.

To be able to table a motion at a British AGM you need 5% of total voters or 100 x £100 nominal value (Nominal £10k). You must table this motion within strict time limits to prevent the company charging you the full costs of circulating details of your motion.

There have been 8 Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) motions in the last 5 years. Mostly led by trade unions. Warning that many companies see such motions as a confrontational tactic. So you should try and make it appear constructive? Not "anti-company". Instead of appearing to give instructions make suggestions. However, direct motions may well be the only realistic option if companies are being unreasonable. To get the vote out you must contact all major shareholders, investor representative bodies and meet them - preferably face to face.

But you must demonstrate you have tried to engage with the company first. Note fund managers generally vote against ESG motions. Even those who claim to be supportive of ESG principles.

The LAPFF "Marks and Spencer" motion against a combined company chief executive also being the company chair was a landmark occurrence. There had been significant engagement beforehand about best practice. Stuart Rose now says that it was his worse mistake (not to separate the roles of Chair and CEO). Marks and Spencer have now a separate Chair and CEO and comply with best practice. The panel were "disappointed" that L&G tracker fund managers voted against this (why on earth did L&G do this?) and that they had 4.5% share of the company. Remember that there is only usually 50% turnout of shareowners at AGM's.  So you can have a greater affect even if you only have control of a smaller number of shares.  The ESG motion on anti-trade union activities of First Group in the USA did result in significant change in company behaviour.
Colin talked about the Fair Pensions BP/Shell Tar Sands motions and the UNISON staff pension fund which helped bring it about. UNISON staff pension scheme has a broad screening programme such as not to invest PFI contractors.They cleared the proposed motion with the Canadian PSI trade unions beforehand. The motion fitted UNISON policy on climate change. It was crucial to get the support of the large American public sector funds. 45% global pension funds are in the USA. He reminded us all of the Freshfields legal opinion's that such “responsible” investment is a fiduary duty of Trustees. Colin recommended the book Hawley and Williams “The Rise of Fiduciary Capitalism”.

Jack Clarke pointed out that Unite spend 10% of their budget on organising. He talked about the Meat workers campaign. They gained 10,000 new members and 250 new stewards. A key issue was agency working. Agencies undercut permanent workers and exploited staff. The Union wanted equal treatment. They worked on a supply chain strategy. 85% of the meat market goes to retail shops. They pushed Tesco and other large UK retailers in a pincer movement, above (by share motions) and below (from workers). Tesco is a key market driver. They tabled a solution at the AGM with West Yorkshire Pension Fund on this issue. 11% shareholders voted in favour and 7% abstained. There was widespread press coverage. ASDA signed a deal with Unite for equal treatment in the UK and Ireland. 50,000 workers affected in the UK and gained parity of pay and were now usually made permanent after 13 weeks agency work. Lessons: Resource intensive; you need to have economic as well as morale case. Needs to be more active engagement with trade union trustees. It is vital to deliver bottom up pressure on fund managers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tower Hamlets Homes Lobby

This evening I went along to a noisy but largely cheerful lobby by UNISON members of a Tower Hamlets Homes Board meeting in the Toby Club in Bethnal Green.  Tower Hamlets Homes is a ALMO which has run into let us say "problems".

I use to be an assistant branch secretary of the  UNISON Tower Hamlets Local Government Branch and was invited by local stewards to attend this lobby.

Management have announced 80 redundancies (out of some 500 staff).  Which is bad enough - but what has incensed the workforce is that they have been told that they have to apply within 7 days for voluntary redundancy or they will lose any right to a severance payment.  Despite the fact this severance payment is a TUPE right!

What is even more iniquitous is that the staff have not been told what possible jobs are available under the new proposed structure.  Never mind what are the proposed job descriptions, numbers of posts, possible grades and assimilation rights.  These are agreed good practice HR processes which are being simply ignored.

What this means is that staff are being blackmailed into applying for redundancy before knowing all the facts and when it might have turned out that they have a job to go to after all.  This is bad employment practice and probably needs to be tested at an employment tribunal. 

Wearing another "hat" I am extremely concerned at some other allegations made about staff aged 55 or over which I will investigate further.

Staff told me that they understood that the organisation has severe financial difficulties and they have their own ideas about reducing costs but the current process is simply wrong and grossly unfair.

The UNISON reps did have a number of positive and constructive conversations with managers and members of the Board on the way in which I thought were really helpful. The reps had produced an excellent precise and hard hitting leaflet detailing their concerns. 

All in all a successful text book lobby and many thanks to Tony and Trevor for organising it.  They tell me this is only the beginning.

Monday, January 17, 2011

RSA Debates "The Spirit Level" 22 July 2010

I am a little early at Congress House waiting for tonight’s seminar by one of the authors of “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better”. Checking my netbook I see that I still have my note from the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) debate last year which I haven’t got around to posting. So at the risk of confusing things I might as well post it now – it will remind me of the issues. I’ll post on tonight soon (and not leave it 6 months this time)

RSA CEO Matthew Taylor chaired the lunchtime meeting. He remarked that he had never seen the lecture theatre so packed. The debate was between Peter Saunders and Christopher Snowden (Spirit Level Deniers) and the authors of “The Spirit Level” - Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson.

Christopher Snowden spoke first and claimed “The Spirit Level” was a delusion. The charts used actually do not show any link between “happiness” and inequality. People “happy” from greater income. But "happy" is only one indicator. No significantly significant coloration. No significant evidence that inequality in itself causes ill-health and not income or other factors. One exception is over life expectancy and inequality. But the evidence is that there is no direct link between inequality and life expectancy.

The authors are selective about which countries used to compare so not to spoil their argument. Portugal, not mentioned. Japan may have little obesity but this is due to Asian culture rather than greater equality.

For Peter Saunders the problem is the use of statistical “outliers”. For example “income inequality and homicide”. Need in statistics to take out the USA which is an “outlier”. There is a reliance on such exceptions. USA on high child obesity and Japan with its high life expectancy. Take Japan out (greater life expectancy due to eating more oily fish rather than equality) and the arguments fail. As a Professor of Statistics he would have failed his student’s papers if they used these arguments.

Teenage births rates are the same. There are differences due to historic and sociological reasons - nothing to do with inequality. Look at third variable? Look not only at inequality but look at the link between homicide and African Americans. Ethnicity predicts homicide twice as much as inequality. This is the same for infant mortality. 18 times more likely to predict infant mortality as income inequality. He is upset at being accused of a racist slur.

Richard Wilkinson then spoke and defended their use of statistics. They didn’t use the most dramatic statistics. They did not self select and used respected and independent World Bank statistics on the 50 richest countries. Their results are based on the data. Poor health increases with stress. It is implausible that chronic stress does not cause worse health. The suggestion to remove black Afro-Americans from data is like removing manual workers in the UK.

Final speaker was Kate Pickett. All the research had been peer reviewed and responses published online. She claimed that her opponents had misquoted her and that she would fail any of her students who misquoted facts. White homicide rates in America, in the south and the north, are still associated with inequality.

Next was Q&A panel. I asked Kate and Richard whether there is a link with greater inequality in USA when compared to Scandinavian and levels of trade union density. Which Matthew Taylor asked me did I mean that if you joined the GMB you would live 5 years longer? I pointed out that I was a UNISON member. The answer was that they had not researched this point yet.

You can read more and download an audio file of the event here. I’ll post a picture from the July event when I get home. UPDATE: done.  The good guys obviously are on the left :)  Buy the book here

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Magic Moments

I had a letter published recently in the Newham Recorder as West Ham Labour Party agent criticising Tory East Ham Chair, Neal Pearce,  for being abusive about West Ham  MP Lyn Brown and using Remembrance Day to make cheap political points.  A number of Newham residents also wrote in to complain about his behaviour.  On 29 December Mr Peace responded defending his comments by claiming that I had been “rude” about his appearance on this blog during the 2009 by-election and had apparently “booed” him during the May 2010 election count?  How childish and ridiculous. 
In the 2009 campaign I had criticised a Tory election leaflet he published about himself which I said he appeared to have a (my Welsh Compatriot) “Vinnie Jones” skinhead haircut.  Nothing more and nothing less.  I supposed he is complaining that I was actually comparing him to a yob.  But please look at the picture on his leaflet (see video) and make your own mind up.  The fact that so-called “thick skinned” Pearce made a thinly veiled threat of violence against me does I suppose support this yobbish assumption. 
On Election day this year there was as you can imagine a lot of cheering and booing going on from both sides during the formal declarations.  As far as I remember I was trying to fix my camera to record the result when his came up.  I am pretty sure that I never behaved in the daft and boorish manner that Mr Pearce displayed at his election declaration in 2009.
The big issue of course is that he has never responded to my criticism about him politicising Remembrance Day – instead he tries to shirk responsibility for his comments by claiming I have been “orrible” to him.  How silly and immature.  Mr Pearce should realise the first rule of politics is that if you are in a hole.  Stop digging.
Meanwhile someone has sent me this YouTube link.  Headphones and speakers on.  Pearce’s nonsense helps proves my point. Why are the opposition in Newham, extreme left and extreme right, so completely rubbish?  Obsessed solely with personalities?  None of them have any real politics.  Oh well.

Stop the jobseeker injustice

Well done to the NHF for carrying on with their "Don't mention the housing crisis" campaign post General election.  Also, for annoying Coalition ministers for pointing out the inequities and injustices of their policies.

This screen print from their website encourages you to contact your MP about the latest bit of Condem viciousness towards the vulnerable. 

"The Government is planning to cut support for people who are looking for work.

From 2013, job seekers will see a 10% cut in their housing benefit if it takes them longer than a year to find a job, while claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

This proposal is wrong, it will penalise people who simply can’t find work and threatens to increase homelessness or debt among vulnerable people.

A young person hit by this cut will have to live on an average of just £41.65 a week.

Your MP has the power to vote against the change in Parliament, use this template email to ask your MP to stop this injustice from happening.

We've made this easy for you with this template email which we encourage you to personalise. Once you've finished it, just click 'send' and it will be emailed to your MP".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Happy 50th Montrose Matty!

Happy Half Century to Montrose (Monty) Matty.  Former top UNISON Caretaking steward and Safety rep. 

A  staunch (but born again) Labour Party member. 

Seen here on the picket line outside 723 Commercial Road E14 during the month long Tower Hamlets Housing Strike 1999.

His wife Sue is throwing a Party for him which is taking place in a Community Centre in the Isle of Dogs.  They are promising fresh sea food from nearby Billingsgate Market.

Montrose will protest that this picture does not accurately reflect his very active support of the Strike at the time.

However, surely...the camera never lies :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Paul Myners LAPFF 2010: The Capital Market Crisis two years on

This report is a just a little late but better late than never...Former fund manager, Chair of Marks and Sparks and Labour Government Financial Services Secretary, Lord Paul Myners, speaking at the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) conference in December last year. Myners gave his usual knockabout speech, entertaining and serious by turns. Usual caution about the literal accuracy of my hurriedly typed notes.

"This is the 4th occasion I have spoken to LAPFF. I was asked to speak about what lessons are to be learnt after financial crisis. What did we do and where are we now?- what are the governance and stewardship issues?

I should be writing a book about my time as a Labour Minister but I am lazy. At the moment I am studying theology. What caused the crisis? I am not sure? Sub Prime mortgages? The search for yield? Why is yield so important? There is now huge liquidity. China makes loans to us. They manufacture more than they consume which they export to us and get foreign currency back in return. This is still the main reason for the crisis. Nothing has been done about this. With the G20 you get warm words but few parsnips.

I became a minister for the first time in the eye of the storm. 12 days after collapse of Lehman Brothers. It was far worse than I first thought. But we still cannot rule out similar crisis in the future. Chances are lower. We still don’t have ways for banks to fail. We are trying to address problems of individual banks not the system.

People who 18 months ago were saying things must change are now saying well.. we have a competitive industry and should not scare them away. The role in the crisis of auditors not been looked at all. The Tripartite approach failed. My view is that this government is wrong at this stage to be putting forward only regulatory change. I was a Director at the Bank of England for 4 years. It is very good at economic analysis but not as a regulator. Lots of clever people with double firsts but it tends to look down at people from business. The jury is out about whether the Bank has right culture to do this. Macro prudential regulation. Take away punch bowl before the Party gets too riotous? Great idea but in practice....

When Mervin King came to Alistair Darling and I and first mentioned “Quantitative Easing”. None of us knew what it meant. We will not know full effects for 2 or 3 decades. The Governor of Bank of England is right to be not worried about inflation. Interest rates to control inflation is creditable. But to take the heat out of economy? No.

Some good news. The bond market is a crazy bubble. It will burst. Higher interest rates will help your pension funds. Why are advisers buying bonds? Ask yourself has it ever been right to buy UK gilts at 3.5%? Never! but pension schemes are doing this.

Fund managers have no idea what is going on either. I was a fund manager for 20 years. At the time I thought I knew what I was doing - but now I know they don’t. Don’t bother inviting your fund managers to your investment committees. Rather you should spend the time reading the Economist.

Where were the owners in all this? The board of directors at those companies had very little idea, nor did managers – they did not have a good sense of risk. But no one in fund managers industry fessed up – somehow - we didn’t do what we should have done. We were culpable as your agents. We did not engage as we should have done.

David Walker paper is a good report but a very little advance. Remuneration was a core failure for banks. Incentives encouraged them to take risk. They rewarded success but did not penalise failure. Remember that there were 200 Bank of Scotland employees paid more than Fred. The Government have now back tracked. Other recommendations in Walker report will wither on the vine. You, the real owners need (with PRIC and others) to get your act together. Work together to be agents for change. No more owner less corporations. Also you have shares in competitors, suppliers and customers. Only LAPFF speaks for the end investor. Only by mobilisation and shared interests can you see fundamental change in governance. Or run the continued risk of corporate or sectoral failure.

We cannot prove that good governance improves superior returns but we can prove bad governance does result in catastrophic failure. Black swans".

In the Q&A I introduced myself as a trade union rep from Tower Hamlets Pension fund and he immediately remembered us sacking him and Gartmore as our fund manager. He also said that he enjoys this blog! (kind person that he is).  I said he must write his book!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"We band of brothers"

Major Richard "Dick" Winters - the original American Paratrooper who with his Easy Company comrades was featured in the superb book and film "Band of Brothers" died recently.

He lived to a ripe old age of 92 despite the awful combat experiences he had gone through in his youth.  He had however been ill for several years with Parkinston Disease.

Not only did they survive being parachuted into France on D Day and the Battle of the Bulge but he and his comrades also took part in the liberation of a German concentration Camp.  After which he said to himself "Now I know why I am here".

Richard had originally enlisted in the Army as a private and after the War turned down the offer to be a regular soldier to return to civilian life.

I posted this in 2009.  Hat-tip Harry's Place

"And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother" Henry V

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SWPer finds God while its Officers become Royality

This is actually a rather interesting radio interview with a former leader of Respect and the SWP (I understand) in Birmingham about why this former atheist converted to Islam.  David Asif Hughes comes over as being pretty level headed and reasonable. I'm not sure who are the people he mentioned who mocked and ridiculed him for his new faith?

Meanwhile someone posted this comment about the SWP anonymously yesterday "From the SWP internal bulletin for their forthcoming conference:

“How is it possible for a party like ours to be smaller after 10 years of political upturn than in the long years of political downturn?” They go on: “We are dogged with the twin problems of weak organisation on the ground on the one hand and strong hierarchical tendencies on the other …. The rank and file have openly been called ‘foot soldiers’ and treated with condescension and/or contempt by our ‘officers’. If the ‘officers’ do attend the odd branch meetings it is in the manner of visiting royalty.”

UPDATE: I think this quote comes from here (via Harry's Place).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nominate John Gray for UNISON Community General seat on NEC

Dear Branch Secretary
I am writing to ask your branch to consider nominating me for the Community general seat on the National Executive Council.

I am a lifelong trade unionist and have been a member of UNISON for 17 years. 

I am Branch Secretary of the UNISON Housing Associations Branch and also Health & Safety and Labour Link Officer.

For the first time Community members will be represented on the National Executive Council. I want to represent Community members in all branches across the organisation, those in other service group branches, in geographical branches and those that are in the dedicated Community branches.

I want to ensure that all members are aware of what UNISON is doing for them and encourage them to become active themselves. I also want to support branches that have Community membership by ensuring that we have adequate and fair resources to enable us to support our members in these volatile and uncertain times. 

I have attached a copy of my election address (double click to bring up details) and I would be grateful if you could discuss this with your branch committee. If you would like to talk about this statement please ring or email me.
Yours faithfully
John Gray

ps - Most large Local Government and Health branches will also be eligible to nominate.  Nominations need to be made at a quorate meeting of your branch or branch committee during the nomination period. The nomination period will open on 11 January 2011 and close at 5pm on Friday 18 February 2011. Copies of the nomination forms will be available on UNISON's website here.  My UNISON number is 3083288

25 Years On: News International Dispute 1986-87

Hat-tip SERTUC

Monday, January 10, 2011

UNISON Health workers reject divisive 2 year pay freeze

This is the official UNISON press release "Members of UNISON’s Health Service Group Executive have today rejected a two-year freeze on pay increments, on top of the pay freeze imposed by the Government.

NHS Employers had offered a no compulsory redundancy agreement in return for the freeze. Members rejected the deal because there was no guarantee that all employers would abide by it. It would not be binding, but left to individual Trusts to decide whether or not to offer the guarantee.

Mike Jackson, Senior National Officer for Health said: “The Service Group Executive said today that they could not support a further pay freeze for nurses, paramedics and other low paid, mainly women workers. “The funding gap in the NHS is so great that members were sceptical that Trusts would abide by a no compulsory redundancy agreement for two years.  “Additionally they felt that the offer was divisive because it excluded high level clinicians, such as matrons, senior occupational therapists and midwife supervisors.”

While these pearls of wisdom to his members are from London Ambulance UNISON branch secretary Eric Roberts (left in picture with broad smile next to UNISON London regional conveyor Gloria Hanson on G20 March 2009)

"Dear all,

Just to keep you in the picture concerning the proposal from NHS Employers and to inform you of my contribution on behalf of the Branch and the Union next week.

On Monday I am attending an extraordinary National Ambulance Sector meeting and straight after that I am attending an extraordinary Health Service Group Executive meeting 

There is one agenda item. That is to agree or not to agree that the Union should enter into negotiations (tentative or otherwise) with the NHS Employers to accept an AfC incremental freeze (on top of the planned pay freeze) in return for an agreement concerning compulsory redundancies within the NHS.

That is the core of the agreement although there is also mention of a freeze in employee pension contributions and other fringe add on’s. This part has yet to be finalised. 

Although most people were not happy, most accepted the simple understanding that the pay freeze may well save jobs, and on that basis bit their tongues.  What is being asked this time is totally different.

These are important meetings that will decide how the Union deals with the Coalition regarding Health. This is a big decision on a lot of levels.  I intend to vote no. I will speak against the Union entering this type of agreement. I will vote no and speak against at both meetings.

I believe that it is obscene that health workers are being blackmailed and held to ransom by this Government and that we are being asked to take the responsibility for the NHS finances, while at the same time being to blame if any jobs go.

I realize of course that any way I vote has consequences. If I vote for it then our members will not only have a pay freeze but will also not have their contractual right of an incremental pay spine rise.

If I vote against then the spectre of compulsory redundancies will be laid at our door with the accusation of being selfish and not caring. I believe in Partnership but this is not partnership. This is a gun held cynically to the Union’s head.

My guess is that the Ambulance Sector as a body will vote no. It is a fact of course that ambulance services will not be as cut as many other health organisations and that may well influence a lot of the vote.  The SGE is another matter. Many members there will be facing huge job losses back at their trusts and will have a huge struggle with their conscience.

I do not know how the vote will go at that meeting.  Dave Prentis has said that ‘Our time has come’!

Unison is big enough to stand on it’s own two feet (or it’s 1.5 million x 2 feet!). The financial crisis is not the fault of health workers. Of course there is always a chance that more information will be made available and the deal being sought is not what we think.

I do not also know what the other health unions will decide.  I know that you trust me to make the right decision.  I will update you all at the Branch Committee meeting.

Best wishes  

Sunday, January 09, 2011

People's Front of Judea - request for nomination to UNISON NEC

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to ask your UNISON branch to consider nominating me in the forthcoming election to UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC). I am seeking re-election in the Male seat to represent the Greater Judea Region.

I am the Secretary of the People's Front of Judea local government branch and have represented Judea on our NEC since 03AD. I believe that the experience which I have gained and the enthusiasm which I have not lost together mean that I could play a valuable role as an NEC member in what will be our most challenging times.

I am asking you to nominate me to continue to represent you on the NEC because of what I will do if elected.

Most importantly, I will continue to report regularly and transparently to Judea UNISON branches about what happens at meetings of our NEC. I regularly circulate full reports by email, which supplement the brief official reports made available on the website. I also publish my reports online on a blog.....

To be valid, nominations need to be made at a quorate meeting of your branch or branch committee during the nomination period. The nomination period will open on 11 January 2011 and close at 5pm on Friday 18 February 2011. Copies of the nomination forms will be available on UNISON's website from 4 January.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this message and, I hope, to pass it on to your Branch Committee.

Yours in solidarity,

Not a raving Trot

(honest, cross my heart, I'm not xxx but I am, really, honest, a proper working class warrior against the ruling class and all their stooges in the workers movement - and born and bred in Brighton)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Netroots UK 2011

This was supposed to be a "live post" from today's Netroots conference at Congress House.  However, my netbook battery ran out at the crucial time.  Which is typical.

Netroots UK was a hugely impressive and well attended event.

I had my Council surgery first thing so I only arrived at the end of the morning session.  I went straight into the "Engaging with politicians online" workshop.

Picture is of Tom Watson MP, Rachel Gibson (Manchester University), Matthew McGreggor (Blue State Digital) and Mark Pack (Liberal Democratic Voice).  I'll post further details on conference tomorrow.

Some stuff I found interesting during this panel discussion but was too tired and emotional to blog on my return last night (it had had been a good night).

Mark talked about “drive by democracy”. Problem with e-petitions. He would like to see a Council site were instead of just submitting your view about a planning application it actually links to those who support or who are against the application.

Tom praised the unions for taking the on-line lead and mentioned Unison for having “on-line branches”. Online petitions do not work. Standard campaign email gets standards response. Bespoke gets bespoke response.

Rachel pointed out 16% of voters used political website in the 2010 election compared to 3% in 2005. Small but growing. Rachel also described twitter as possibly being an elite conversation but with Facebook there is a broader appeal (which I agree).

Someone from 38 degrees website defended “Cloned emails” by saying 2/3 of those who send standard emails to MPs have never contacted their MP before. So this is a good thing.

BTW I was surprised bearing in mind this type of conference how many people present were taking notes on the discussion with pen and paper. Next was a brown bag lunch and fringes. I went to the “beyond Obama” fringe and will hopefully blog soon but a teeny-weeny bit busy at the mo.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Labour Activists Bashing "Unfare" Boris outside Mile End station

On the way home from work yesterday evening I came across West Ham activist Tahmina and Tower Hamlets Labour Party James busy giving out "Unfare" leaflets to commuters about recent massive Tory fare rises. 

Other activists were covering stations elsewhere in Tower Hamlets and Newham.

On Tuesday evening I understand that Tahmina and Newham Young Labour gave out 2000 leaflets at Stratford (then went off for a meal at Nandos).

Good stuff!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

London Labour Housing Group Launch: 26 January 2011

This should be a really good event to anyone interested in winning "the battle of ideas" in housing policy.  Demand has been really high.  Please RSVP to ensure there is space (this is essential - Labour Party members only for this launch event). 

The thoughts of Chairman John...on Blogging

Mary Honeyball MEP has posted the video of her fringe at Labour Party conference 2010.  You can see my contribution on some of the perils of blogging and a possible potential political benefit here.

The other speakers were Mark Ferguson (Labourlist), Jessica Asato and Kerry McCarthy MP (her video not yet posted).

The fringe I thought was an excellent conference event.  Well done to Mary and her team for putting it on.

(The Guilty Newham 4 - they know who they are will now have an opportunity to understand just what they have missed out on - LOL :)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

UNISON Nurses say "Stop the Cuts and defend our NHS"!

This is a great picture of UNISON Nurses from St Georges Hospital in Tooting, South London. Who have taken today "time protest at the Governments planned NHS reforms and decision to cut £10bn a year from the NHS through so called efficiency savings.

UNISON Nursing staff at St George's have signalled that they will not hesitate to speak out against Government plans for swingeing cuts and privatisation of the NHS.

Michael Walker UNISON Regional Officer states

"UNISON will not sit ideally by and watch our NHS services slashed and privatised. Britain did not vote for the introduction of an American health care system, a system which is not comprehensive, bureaucratic, expensive and where increased competition not collaboration costs patients lives".

Jane Pilgrim UNISON Nursing Convenor at St George's Hospital, Tooting states

"Over one hundred nurses at St Georges Hospital have already signalled they will be joining the TUC rally to defend public services on Saturday 26th March in central London and we are receiving incredible support from the local community". 

Hat-tip UNISON press release.

Drop Dead Gorgeous Wales

This was a hastily snapped photo taken near the roadside on route back home to the smoke yesterday in Snowdonia. I think it is Llynnau Mymbyr on the A4086.   Lovely...

Unfare: Boris and Osborne fare rise

"Higher fares and cuts under Boris and Osborne"...This leaflet is being handed out outside bus and railway stations in London.

Single bus journey by Oyster UP by 8% - 44% under Boris in three years.

Rail fares up by 6.2% average - some more than 10%.

Zones 1-5 monthly travelcard UP £11.50 to over £180.

Weekly bus pass UP to £17.80, a rise of 7%
Zones 1-2 monthly travel card UP £6.90 to £106.  

All this while most people face pay freezes and pay cuts.  


Off now to my local station before work to spread the festive news.

Last year here and here

Monday, January 03, 2011

Ain't Seen Ruthin Yet

Not as good as "Newport" but this is another great parody.  I was actually brought up in this part of North Wales - not that far from Ruthin.  My parents even thought about buying a pub in Ruthin and for a little while I had one of the best job in Britain for a 18 year old.  My girlfriend and I had to check out and report back on all the possible competition in the other pubs in Ruthin.  Great stuff.  They didn't go ahead and buy or lease anything but I "enjoyed" the research at the time.

New Year's Resolution 2011: Targeting Tax Thieves

I'm back from New Year in Wales.  What about those New Year's Resolutions then?  From UK Uncut  "Philip Green is a multi-billionaire businessman, who runs some of the biggest names on British high streets. His retail empire includes brands such as Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Miss Selfridge and British Home Stores.

Philip Green is not a non-dom. He lives in the UK. He works in the UK. He pays tax on his salary in the UK. All seems to be in order. Until you realise that Philip Green does not actually own any of the Arcadia group that he spends every day running. Instead, it is in the name of his wife who has not done a single day’s work for the company. Mrs Green lives in Monaco, where she pays not a penny of income tax.

In 2005 Philip Green awarded himself £1.2bn, the biggest paycheck in British corporate history. But this dividend payout was channeled through a network of offshore accounts, via tax havens in Jersey and eventually to Green’s wife’s Monaco bank account. The dodge saved Green, and cost the tax payer, close to £300m. This tax arrangement remains in place. Any time it takes his fancy, Green can pay himself huge sums of money without having to pay any tax.

Before the election, the Lib Dems liked to talk tough on tax avoiders. But as soon as they entered the coalition, this pre-election bluster became just another inconvenient promise they quietly forgot. In August David Cameron appointed the country’s most notorious serial-tax avoider to advise the government on how best to slash public spending. Not a single Lib Dem minister uttered a word of complaint. A Guardian editorial denounced this as “shameful”.

Philip Green’s £285m tax dodge could pay for: The full, hiked up £9,000 fees for almost 32,000 students. Pay the salaries of 20,000 NHS nurses.

And if that’s not reason enough to take action against Sir Philip, it is worth noting that he has built his £5bn fortune on the back of sweatshop labour, using Mauritius sweatshops where Sri Lankans, Indians and Bangladeshis toil 12 hours a day, six days a week, for minimal pay".  Hat-tip SERTUC