Monday, October 31, 2011

Secure affordable homes for all: A policy for the next Government

This picture is from the Newham Compass meeting held last week at East Thames Housing Association headquarters in Stratford, E15 on the key issue of "affordable housing".

East Thames Housing Association Chief Executive Officer, June Barnes, (right) spoke first and set the scene about the horrendous housing shortage. She thinks that the new affordable rent model may well result in 170,000 new homes nationally but is risky to housing associations and a "one-off" that cannot be repeated. 

Next (on the left) is the Chair of Carpenters Estate Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), Eddie Benn. Eddie talked about the history of the TMO and what they had achieved as a resident led organisation and the future difficulties they face.
Finally, Labour London Assembly member Nicky Gavron (middle of picture) talked about the failure of Tory Mayor Johnson to deliver on his housing promises and the threat to hundreds of thousands of  Londoners by savage  cuts in grants, allowances, benefits and security of tenure. The vulnerable and the working poor will be "cleansed" out of most of London. 

I enjoyed this event but will agree with the remarks of one of those who also attended "...Speakers were excellent although I did leave feeling dispirited listening to able people applying their ingenuity to squeezing the best policies they could from the current situation while knowing all the time they would be woefully inadequate".

The meeting was chaired by Newham Compass, Christopher Owens (rear of picture).  The next event possibly will to invite one of the authors of "The Spirit Level". 

London Marathon Training 2012 Week 1: "Coventriert" & Getting fit can damage your health

Earlier this month I posted here that I was planning to run the London Marathon 2012 and was starting to train using this 24 week training programme.  I plan to post each week on my training and hope to make it "on message" as much as possible. 

This week's top run was around Coventry City centre (on route to a brief visit to Wales) and the old and new Cathedral (see picture).  Germans bombers destroyed  much of the city during the Second World War.  Especially in the infamous attack on November 14 1940.  "The raid destroyed or damaged about 60,000 buildings...and is known to have killed 568 civilians. The raid reached such a new level of destruction that Joseph Goebbels later used the term Coventriert ("Coventrated") when describing similar levels of destruction of other enemy towns".  The Cathedral is well worth a visit.

The worse was along Llandudno beach the following day when Mrs Grayee, who was running with me, slipped on a concrete ramp and broke her wrist so badly that she needed a metal plate to be surgically fitted.  Many thanks to Glan Clwyd hospital for the initial care and Newham University hospital for further treatment.  She is now on the mend. You do wonder if getting fit is worth it?

Then this morning I went for a run around Wanstead Park.  The autumnal colour of the trees is simply beautiful. I ran for the first time a 45 minute "Fartiek" session.  You do a a self selected combination of fast sprints, medium runs and slow jogs.  I think it is fair to say I did far more of the latter than the former. Yet I had a huge sense of achievement and well being at the end.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

SERTUC Regional Council motion: Response to Government Economic Policies

This is a picture of me addressing the recent SERTUC (South East Regional TUC) Council meeting.

(Yes, I must remember to stick my head up from my speech notes when speaking).

Motion 1 was about the "Response to Government Economic Policies". It was quite a good motion which I spoke in favour of but I felt that it needed to be emphasised what November 30 should really be about.

"President, Council....Winning the Ballot with a big majority and a big turnout then making strike action on November 30th a success, is indeed the 1st important counter attack against this Government's policies.

But as a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme for 20 years and currently facing a bleak pension future. If we win the ballot then the strike action on November 30 is first and foremost an industrial issue. It is an industrial dispute around the fundamental threat to a basic term and condition for all workers. The right to a safe and secure future in retirement.

And we must continue to remind the public that this is a last resort industrial dispute brought about by the abject failure by this Government to negotiate.

The focus on November 30 should be the picket line. Winning the dispute with effective pickets on every single town hall and public building. Leafleting the public, talking to them about our cause, supporting hospital workers at their lunch time protests, then maximising turnout at rallies and lobbies.

Also as someone who now works for a private organisation that does not offer its new employees a safe and secure defined benefit pension. As part of this fight back we must never forget the 2/3 of employers in the private sector that do not pay a penny towards the pensions of their staff nor the horrific figure that 50% of all private sector workers have no pension provision whatsoever.

However, despite the impression given by the Daily Hates and the Tax Evaders Alliance, don’t forget that as well as the 6 million in public service pension schemes that there are still 2.4 million private sector workers who are still accruing service in private defined benefit schemes. They know if the public service defined benefit schemes collapse - so will theirs.

Council, the message to all workers, public and private sector, must be quite clear, that on 30 November we will be striking to defend safe and secure pensions for all".

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Remuneration Committee "Racket"

Today I listened to Any Questions on Radio 4. There was a question about the outrageous 49% increase in the pay last year of the average FT100 director (about 10 minutes in).

Lib Dem Coalition minister Jeremy Browne
described the company remuneration committees who "set" the pay of such executives as being "a cartel... a real Racket". Tory MP David Davies also cheerfully admitted that it was all a big fiddle and stitch up. While Labour MP Rachel Reeves pointed out that it was not as if these bosses had added any value to these companies in the last year.

Despite accurately describing such pay arrangements as being akin to organised crime Browne failed to offer any solutions. Davies suggested allowing getting company AGM's to vote on individual executive pay rather than the whole executive package en bloc. This would be useful but is not going to change things.

As the TUC points out here why shouldn't there be elected employee representatives on these remuneration committees who would bring "directors a much-needed sense of reality". This seems to work in many of our European competitors such as Germany? Why in the UK is this seen as being some form of unBritish devil worship? This is the sort of dare I say radical but necessary change that Labour should pursue. It is good that Ed is on board.

Over the years I've banged about the subject here, here, here (last year's increase was 55%!), here ... (and elsewhere). Check out Tom's latest post as well.

By coincidence I have just submitted a branch motion on applying the principles of the "The Spirit Level" to company pay differentials.

Picture: Typical FT100 Remuneration Committee at work. The Chair of the Board is asking the committee if they are going to increase his pay...or sleep with the fishes. Well, something like that.

London Hazards Asbestos Conference 2011

"London Hazards Asbestos Conference is taking place at The Abbey Centre, 34 Great Smith Street, Westminster SW1P 3BU on Friday 18th November 2011 at 10am.

The conference is aimed at establishing and developing networks to support asbestos victims in Greater London. The conference will develop a strategy to raise awareness among London communities of all the dangers and look at advances in treatments for asbestos diseases; the latest developments in legal remedies if damage results from negligence.

Speakers include:
Andy Slaughter – MP, Labour Party Shadow Justice Minister
Gail Cartmail – Unite National Construction Secretary
Simon Hester – HSE Construction Inspector London and Prospect
William Cambell – Chair London Boroughs Asbestos Group
Michael Lees – Campaign Against Asbestos in SChools
Lisa Booth – HASAG Support Group
Ian McFall – Thompsons Solicitors
Steve Sadley – Asbestos Removal Contractors Association
Tony O’Brien – Construction Safety Campaign

Booking fee is £20 (includes refreshments) – free to victims and family members. Places are limited and early booking is strongly advised.

Download the booking form here: Asbestos Booking Form 18 Nov 2011
For the full program, contact Michael Dooley via email on or on 0207 358 0322".

Thursday, October 27, 2011

SERTUC Regional Council 22 October 2011

Last Saturday morning I went to the South East Regional Trade Union Council (SERTUC) meeting at Congress House. This was before the UNISON International Seminar.

The forthcoming ballot and likely strike action on Public service pensions was the key topic. The President of SERTUC Martin Gould spoke first and in his speech he urged all the unions to remain united and not to fall out in oncoming battle and to work together.

The guest speaker was Assistant General Secretary of Unite, Gail Cartmail. Gail use to work with the Martin as T&G full time officials. Gail spoke about the 400,000 extra Children being forced into poverty by this Government’s policies. Britain is still a rich country not a poor country yet all these children will be living in poverty. The threat to the NHS from so called “social enterprises” such as Central Surrey NHS which has now been taken over by Virgin. How can there be a “jobs less” recovery? Why in Britain is it a legal excuse to sack workers to improve “profitability”. She has friends who are teachers in Greece who have had their pay cut by a third. No wondered there are such protests.

Some good news is that the European TUC is considering making November 30 an international day of protest. Next was a debate on motions which I did speak and will post about separately.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

European Health and Safety Week 24-28 October 2011

Apologies this is a little late.  This week is European Health and Safety week.  The theme for 2011 is "Safe Maintenance". 

You can download the HSE poster here.  Futher details here and here.

I've just applied for a place at the SERTUC health and safety conference on November 25 at Congress House.  It is already fully booked so I have been placed on a waiting list.

As well as getting rid of employment rights for workers, this Tory led Coalition government is also trying to dismantle health and safety protections.  So it is important that everyone keeps up-to-date with what is happening.

I posted in March about the HSE and Socialist realism style safety posters. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vote Yes in Strike Ballot to Protect Public Service Pensions

"UNISON is urging members to vote - and vote YES - in the ballot for industrial action to protect public sector pensions. This ballot closes on Thursday 3 November: Your last chance to vote for action to defend your pension is fast approaching.

We need a big Yes vote and a high turnout to send a clear and united message to ministers that "enough is enough" and to help persuade them to withdraw their current unfair and unjustified attacks on pensions.

If you have not received your ballot paper, or you need a replacement, phone the ballot hotline on 0845 355 0845 to request a ballot paper. You need to do this before noon on 31 October. (Please note the contact centre can only deal with enquiries from members directly).

UNISON is balloting for strike action initially to start on 30 November.

We are also working with other trade unions and community groups to organise local and national protests in support of public sector pensions.

The ballot opened on 11 October and closes on 3 November.

Help us to spread the word so that your colleagues in UNISON vote Yes in the ballot. Please vote Yes."
Do you know the real pension facts?
1. If closed today the LGPS could still pay all its liabilities for 20 years
2. The Treasury gets £2bn more in NHS pension contributions than it pays out in benefits pa
3. The average Local Government pension is £4,000 pa - hardly gold plated!
4. The average NHS pension is £7,000 per annum - again hardly gold plated!
5. Half of NHS women pensioners receive less than £3,500 per annum
6. The bosses of Britain's largest companies have an average pension 29 times bigger than the average public sector pension
Keep up to date with our "Protect our pensions" campaign - 
UNISON Housing Associations Branch, Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA
T: 020 7697 4030     F: 020 7697 4256     
How upto date is your membership information, have we got your email address?
You can now update UNISON membership details on line:
To register you will need your membership number - call UNISONdirect 0845 355 0845

Ken's "#Housinghorrors" Campaign

"Rip-off agency fees. Deposits lost unfairly. Rogue landlords evicting tenants with little notice and hiking rent with no warning. Smashed windows, faulty locks and broken fridges not being fixed for weeks or months. Rodent infestations. Damp and mouldy bathrooms being left to rot.

These are just some of the housing horror stories Londoners renting in the capital have told me about in recent months. But I am under no illusions that there are many more out there.

Hundreds of thousands of people live in the private rented sector across London and I am determined to stand up for ordinary Londoners and improve housing for all.

In the coming months I will be setting out ambitious plans to improve the private rented sector which will be shaped by the experiences of Londoners.

I’m urging people to tell me about their housing experiences so that if elected I can take action to improve housing for all.... get in touch on my facebook page, or on twitter using #housinghorrors"

Read about it on the LHG Red Brick blog
or on Ken’s own website

Monday, October 24, 2011

Plaistow North Labour Party branch "on the knocker"

Picture of the Labour Plaistow North ward canvass team (and a couple of friends) on Saturday. 

West Ham MP Lyn Brown and GLA member for City and East, John Biggs, were also on hand to speak to local residents about the importance of getting rid Tory London Mayor Johnson and electing Ken Livingstone.

Hat Tip Ali G.  Who when I asked if anything interesting or notable happened during the canvass replied "We met a Tory".

#Uint11 Action for Southern Africa ( ACTSA). Update Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Malawi

The seminar continued on Sunday morning with a presentation by Mairan Power (UNISON International officer) and Mark Beacon (ACTSA) on Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Malawi.  It is pretty awful and depressing what is going on in all these countries. They all experience to different degrees violent oppression by corrupt dictators whose lavish lifestyles is at odds with the immense suffering of their people. 

Why on earth should the President of Malawi decide to spend £8 million on a Presidential Jet plane when that money would pay for 8,000 nurses?  Why does he then decide he needs to build a brand new massive airport as a home for his toy?

The trade unions in these countries are also under attack but they are potentially part of the solution.  It is vital that in Britain we continue to support them in their struggle.

I think that also we should remember our own history not that long ago, when we were in similar stages of economic and political development.  There was comparable corruption, extreme poverty and the bloody suppression of democracy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Richard "Dickie" Fenn RIP

This afternoon I heard the sad news that Richard "Dickie" Fenn passed away yesterday.  Dickie used to be the Emergency Liaison Officer for Tower Hamlets Council. This wasn't a 9-5 office job.  Over the years (or rather decades) Dickie and his team used to be on call 24/7 to respond in person to floods, fires, boiler failures and any other emergencies that borough residents experienced including terrorist attacks such as the 1996 IRA Dockland bombing. 

I guess that thousands of East Enders have been glad to see Dickie turn up at say 4am in the morning to sort out a flood and clean up the mess.  I never as a housing officer had any complaints at all about him and his team from residents.  Which is astonishing when you consider the nature of his work.

Check this post out on his retirement "Do" in 1999. My favourite "Dickie" story is this one

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

The actual caretaker himself wasn’t aware what had happened until he went home that night to find his old home empty".
  Needless to say Dickie enjoyed huge loyalty and respect from his staff.

Picture is from a trade union safety inspection I did in 2007 when his team was to be based at the new Sutton Street depot.  We were both arguing with management about the traffic safety management system. 

My sincere condolences to Dickie's family and friends at their loss.

Update: To those who want to pay their respects to Dicky. His funeral will be held next Wednesday 2nd November and the details are as follows:
10:00am      Our Lady Immaculate RC Church, 636 Commercial Road, London E14 7HS
11.30am      City of London Cemetery, Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park, London E12 5DQ
2.00pm      Docklands Sailing Centre, 235a Westferry Road, Isle of Dogs, London E14 3QS

His family have requested that donations be made to Marie Curie Cancer Care

Saturday, October 22, 2011

#Uint11 The Arab Spring - Update on the Middle East and North Africa

Sat pm: Last presentation was by Nick Crook, UNISON International Officer, followed by a film on Labour Rights in Egypt.

Nick reported that this is a new area of work for UNISON.  We use to work on Palestine and Iraq (and to a lesser extent Iran).  No real mandate  before Conference this year. 
It is called the  “Arab Spring” but also involves North Africa. Events are ongoing. Not only in Libya (Gaddifi was killed only 2 days before) but in Syria and Egypt things are still very much a process. The Army remains in control in Egypt.

A key factor has been social and economic conditions. The role of trade unions has been a core theme. There were marked differences in the region beforehand with regard to unions.  Some such as Tunisia had powerful free trade unions, others such as in Egypt, Syria and Libra they were  government controlled unions while in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, unions were banned. Less widely reported is the protests in Jordon, Algeria and Morocco.  In Morocco the protests forced the King to announce that there will be a  constitutional monarchy. While in Bahrain there was military intervention by Saudi. 3000 trade unionists lost their jobs while several hundred were imprisoned.  Contrast the British Government response to what has happened in Libya and Bahrain. Kuwait also has a crack down on trade union protest. On May day 2011 77 national trade unions across region did sign a "democracy declaration".

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have a new web site (which I can't find?) and Labourstart also has lots of good information and campaigns.  Unfortunately there has been splits in Egypt trade unions which have put UNISON in a difficult position with regard to who to support.

#Uint11 Project with UNE Nicaragua

Sat pm: Ruby Cox the Chair of UNISON Greater London International Committee (I am vice Chair) spoke next with Gabriela Queuedo, the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group Trade Union Officer (NSC).

Ruby spoke about how she first became involved in  international work in her branch (Tower Hamlets Local Government - my old branch).  Tower Hamlets  borough has the highest number of Bangladeshi residents in Europe. She was involved in making contact and organising a visit of 3 Bangladeshi trade union leaders (I also drove them around the borough during this visit). 

Ruby has an interest in Nicaragua and managed to be part of a delegation to visit this country. She was pretty horrified at the very poor working conditions and lack of employment rights. Since 2009 she had been involved in a project to fund a legal office to for the main Nicaraguan public sector trade union UNE. Gabriela explained about the NSC and how they helped Ruby with the assistance of the UNISON international department to eventually bring the project to a successful end.  The legal office is now up and running.

I think that Ruby and Clare in the previous presentation showed that it was possible for UNISON branches and Regions to start an initiate, get money and support from UNISON, work with partners and to set up successful projects.  It is often slow and frustrating but they show it can be done.

#Uint11 UNISON Northern region “Solidarity Work in Southwest Colombia”

Sat pm: UNISON Northern Region Convenor, Clare Williams, together with local organiser, Patrick Kane gave the next related presentation on a project her region had helped set up in Columbia.

Firstly she explained "Why do we do it?" The global neoliberal economic model is responsible for causing and intensifying much of the world’s problems.

Then how they went about the project and how this initiative had benefits for both sides.  It was empowering, it changed lives, builds the union, it helped also build a social movement with a common vision and encourage an internationalist approach.

The project was to fund an education scheme for the wives, daughters and mothers of sugar cane cutters in Valle del Cauca in Columbia. In September 2007 15,000 sugar cane cutters went out on strike for 2 months. Region supported a capacity building project for the group. They had local contacts and made an expression of interest.  Followed by a proposal using the UIDF application form. Application was approved and funding sent out in instalments.

Lessons: Remember things will go wrong, it is a learning process! Not everything works first time.

#Uint11 Introduction to UNISON's International Development Fund

Saturday and Day 2 of the 2011 UNISON International Seminar.  I missed the morning session since I had to attend SERTUC Regional Council. I'll post on that later.
After lunch National officer Ravinder Gill gave an introduction to the UNISON International Development Fund (UIDF).
The UIDF was set up in 2004 to support the unions international commitments and unions in developing countries.  The fund receives money from UNISON commercial partners not members subscriptions. Ravinder (who is a trustee with me on the UNISON staff pension fund) explained the funds approach to funding applications and project criteria.

Since beginning of this year 13 new projects have been agreed such as capacity building in the FTUK (Federation of Trade Unions of Kaw Thoo Lei) in Burma.

Key messages about UIDF projects: They should be strategic and sustainable, realistic timeframe, build relationships, utilise existing skills and experiences and establish a legacy.

#Uint11 UNISON International Seminar 2011: Haneen Maikey "Al Qaws"

Friday evening saw the start of the 2011 UNISON International Seminar at the UNISON centre in Euston, London.  There are about 80 registered BIROS (jargin for Branch International Officers which use to puzzle me before I found out what it meant), Regional and National International Committee delegates.

First Speaker was UNISON Head of Pensions, Glyn Jenkins, who used the opportunity to gave everyone an update on the dispute.

The keynote speaker was Haneen Maikey, Director of Al Qaws, the Palestinian NGO for LGBT rights.  This report is based on tweets that I did during her speech and the Q&A. See #unisonint11 (UNISON Young member @Graham_NEC suggests that I should use #Uint11 instead - so from now on I will use this one).

Usual warning about the complete accuracy of my hurried notes especially via fumbled tweeting - on such a sensitive subject. 

"Sexuality in Palestinian context is very complicated. What makes Queer Politics relevant to the Palestinian struggle? Pinkwashing is used by Israel to try and divide us.There is a taboo in Palestine about all forms of sexuality both in public and in private spaces.  Her father would prefer for her to marry a man and express her lesbianism in another way. 

In West Bank homosexuality is legal. Al Qaws does not operate in Gaza (for reasons unclear) The price of "coming out" is very high. It must be a personal decision.  80% of their funding comes from America and Europe.  They were able to persuade a Western based LGBT group not to open a gesture office in Beirut which would have caused conflict.  The 1948 Nakba 'Catastrophe' is the real issue. 711,000 Palestine refugees in 1949 there are now 4.7 million 2010. 20% of Israeli are Palestinian.  Israel tries to divert attention from colonialism, war crimes and occupation.

Resist pinkwashing and the attempt by Israel to promote its policy of victimisation by using pictures of Palestine gays being beaten up. They use these image to try and rebrand Israel.  They attempt to show Palestine as primitive.  Not just the government but well funded privates groups who are Islamophobic.  There is little solidarity with Israeli Queer groups since we are concerned with struggle while they are about equality.  While the main Israeli gay youth society promotes militarism and support the IDF.  They support gay individuals in Gaza but cannot enter.  Most human right groups cannot enter Gaza either. There are some links with Palestine trade unions but they are not close and this is an aspect to explore in the future".  Finally Haneen urged us to look at and support their new web site

Friday, October 21, 2011

Update on Strike Ballots for November 30 Day of Action to Protect Pensions

Hat tip SERTUC: What affiliates and others are up to over Strike Ballots and the Day of Action N30. Some I have never come across before.

Aspect and the Association of Educational Psychologists will be balloting members on options for dignified and lawful protest action on 30 November to stand up for fair pensions
(30 June ballot mandate still valid) ATL has agreed to hold a day of action on Wednesday 30 November to protest against the government's proposed changes to pensions. This might take the form of rallies, lunchtime meetings and events with community groups. ATL is also asking asking at least one member of staff from every school and college in England and Wales, plus delegations from Northern Ireland and Scotland, to attend a lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 26 October.
is conducting a postal consultative ballot with the result count due on Monday 10 October
(not affiliated to TUC)
A day of action to defend public sector pensions against major government reforms is being planned for 30 November. BMA is supporting the day through campaigning and lobbying activities. BMA Council has said a ballot of its members on industrial action remains a firm option for a later date if the government continues to refuse to engage in genuine negotiations on the future of the NHS scheme. CSP
the pensions ballot will run from 31 October until the 14 November
Following the FDA's decision to prepare a ballot of members for industrial action on 30 November, the union has launched its
Fair Pay, Fair Pensions campaign.

ballot ends on 16 November NAHT (not affiliated to TUC)
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), has confirmed the dates of its ballot on strike action over proposed pension cuts. Ballot papers will be despatched on Thursday 29 September and the ballot will close on Wednesday 9 November. If its members vote yes, it will be the first time in the union’s 114-year history that its members will have chosen to strike.
Ballot Timetable from 4 November to 17 November
(30 June ballot mandate still valid) will be giving its full support to the TUC-led day of action on November 30 
(30 June ballot mandate still valid) NEC has endorsed a quarter of a million civil and public servants joining a public sector-wide strike on 30 November. This will be followed by a one-month overtime ban. 
Prospect's ballot runs from October 24 to November 14.
(not affiliated to TUC)
Following a special meeting, RCN Council said that industrial action balloting is ‘inevitable’ if rising anger about government proposals on NHS pensions is not addressed in the ongoing negotiations. Council agreed to support colleagues in the Day of Action on 30 November, though they did not decide to ballot immediately on industrial action. The RCN will now campaign to communicate the seriousness of the proposals and ensure that the RCN is ready to ballot as and when needed. SCP
The ballot opens on 4 November 2011 and closes on 14 November 2011.
is balloting its members on strike action. The ballot opens on 24 October and closes on 14 November
(30 June ballot mandate still valid) 
Ballot for strike action opens on 11 October and closes on 3 November.
is balloting its membership to take part in a day of action on November 30th 2011.
(picture of UNISON sheltered schemes and foyer workers in Hertfordshire/Essex supporting the Strike ballot)

John's London Marathon 2012 blog

It will be 10 years since my first (and only) marathon. I have now obviously forgotten the agony and pain.  Certainly the promise - never, ever to even think of running one again!

I am aiming to take part in the London Marathon 2012. This time I will also be raising funds for “Alone in London”. (AIL)

This is an important youth homelessness charity that has been supporting young people since 1972. It provides a badly needed range of services to vulnerable young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Last year they had contact with over 2000 such youngsters.  I suspect that with the continuing housing crisis and changes in benefits this demand will grow and grow. 

I am asking for donations from this JustGiving page which is here.  Donating through JustGiving is quite simple and safe. Make sure you that you use Gift Aid for AIL to get the tax relief. 

I am sure that some will sponsor me since they will like the idea of me suffering for 26 miles!

In 2002 I finished (very slowly and hobbling for the last 6 miles) at 4 hours 24 minutes.  Despite the extra decade I am aiming for under 4 hours this time!  The biggest problem I think will be the risk of injury while training.  I was supposed to run the marathon in 2001 but injured my knee. This time I will be following a 24 week training programme (from next Monday).  In the future months I will no doubt post on training from time to time.

p.s for the avoidance of any doubt I will not be raising money for the Tower Hamlets Mayor fund this time, no matter how worthy these charities will no doubt be :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Good Libel Reform report but Richard Dawkins is being sued

Today a Parliamentary report recommends reforming our completely rubbish libel laws. There is a lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 9th November at 6 pm. More details about this meeting on

While on Tuesday Jack of Kent published this "Richard Dawkins ("Clinton Richard Dawkins (commonly known as Richard Dawkins)"), the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, Amazon UK, and Vaughan John Jones are being sued for libel by businessman Christopher McGrath and his company McG Production Limited.

There is a strike out application scheduled for 10 November 2011.

More details to follow". Check here on my own interest in such matters.

(apologies - I'm following Jack and disabling comments on this post - for now).

International Brigade 75th Anniversary

"For the 75th Anniversary of the formation of the International Brigades the International Brigade Memorial Trust presented a Gala Evening, supported by Unite the Union and organised by Philosophy Football.

Featuring contributions by writer and broadcaster Robert Elms, singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, cultural historian Andy Croft, poet Jackie Kay, a special performance of his one-man play 'Call Mr Robeson' by Tayo Aluko, a song commissioned for the anniversary written and performed by Grace Petrie, plus many others.

Philosophy Football commissioned Sanum Ghafoor (aka 'Strange Sanum') to make a film of the evening and explore the legacy of the International Brigades 75 years on.

Spanish Civil War T-shirts available from"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

London Labour Housing Group Committee

Last week there was the first Committee meeting of the London branch of the Labour Housing Group (LLHG) in Camden.  This was following our AGM last month.

I think the Branch is doing really well and to take the proverbial has gone from strength to strength. It has a great opportunity of making a real impact in London on progressive housing issues and campaigns.

Steve Hilditch was elected as Chair and Nicky Gavron as a Vice Chair. We now have specialist working groups on Campaigns and Communications; Finance & benefits; Private Rented; Planning & Targets; Older People; Labour Groups and Leasehold/Commonhold. Each committee to meet in person or virtually before the next full committee meeting. I volunteered to go on Campaigning (convened by Steve Cowan) and Private Rented work groups (convened by Jackie Peacock). 

Dancer Studio JIVE

Off message but I thought I might as well add to the nation's obession with Strictly Come Dancing (which of course I do not share) and there is a union connection!

My UNISON Branch administration officer Sarah and her Partner Paul (who is a union activist as well) are champion Jive dancers.

With a friend they have develped a "iphone dance app" in which they appear and dance. See Youtube video and buy for your phone here and 

So if you want to play a Jive game or practice your own Jive moves while waiting for the bus or during your lunch break then give it a go.


Call You and Yours: Do Strikes Work?

Yesterday lunchtime there was a debate on the Radio 4 programme "You and Yours" on "Do Strikes Work?"

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis was a guest with Ed Holmes, from the hard right Tory think tank "Policy Exchange".

I rang into the programme and was able to say (about 9 minutes in) that strikes can work if they are a last resort and if the membership is behind it.  I pointed out my own example of a "successful" strike. I took part in a month long strike to stop cuts in local housing offices and staff redundancies.  In the end we were able to hammer out a compromise which saved people's jobs. 

UNISON John Burgess also rang in from yesterday's picket line in Barnet.

One of the (many) irritating things that Ed Holmes kept saying during the programme was that public service pensions were "over generous"....  if I work for 40 years the maximum pension I will get is just over half pay and a lump sum around 1.5 x my final salary.  I am currently contributing nearly £200 per month - so is a half pay pension "over generous"? Is he saying it should it be less?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kent Care & Support workers show solidarity with UNISON ballot to save Pensions

Housing Association Care and Support workers in Kent are pictured with their long standing local representative, Jim Lennox-Shaw, (centre) showing solidarity with the UNISON Strike ballot to save public service pensions. 

Jim who is planning to retire in 2012 (if he can be replaced!) has been for many years the UNISON Branch Secretary of Tonbridge and Malling District Council branch (South East region). 

I've worked with Jim now for nearly 4 years and he is Old School UNISON completely dedicated to the interests of his members. If he does retire he will be badly missed.

Barnet Strike Action today (with Charity twist)

Good luck to Barnet UNISON who are taking strike action today. Picture is of Regional Secretary Linda Perks addressing last months rally outside Hendon Town Hall. I'm off to Herts today so cannot make it.

"300 UNISON members will be taking one day strike action On Tuesday 18 October as part of a Trades Dispute which concerns the identity of the employer. 

Unlike other strike action there is a twist. 

On the picket line outside the headquarters of Barnet Council (north London business park) UNISON members will stage a short piece of street theatre to demonstrate the dangers of One Barnet Programme to residents, services and staff. There will be two performances at 9am and 9.30 am. 

At 10.30 am a number of strikers will be taking a coach trip across the borough in order to provide help and assistance to a local charity which is desperate need of help. The strikers will spend the rest of the day carrying a number of tasks for the charity. 

UNISON members are calling on the Leader of Barnet Council not to pocket the money he has saved from the strikers and instead donate that money to the Mayor’s Charity

Barnet Young Carers And Siblings 'BYCAS'; The Outward Bound Trust; The Alzheimer's Society 

The day’s activity will end with a Candlelight Vigil outside Hendon Town Hall from 6.30 pm before the Planning Committee begins.  Check out rest of press release here

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reminder: Newham Compass: Secure Affordable Homes for All (Tues 18th)

Reminder: Tuesday 18 October at 7.30pm Newham Compass is holding a debate entitled "Secure Affordable homes for all. A policy for the next government".

This will take place at the headquarters of East Thames Housing Association in Stratford, 29-35 West Ham Lane, E15 (less than 10 minutes from Stratford bus and railway Station, E15)

East Thames CEO, June Barnes will take part with London Assembly member Nicky Gavron and Eddie Benn from Carpenters TMO.

(double click flyer to bring up detail)

Finchingfield and Great Bardfield Walk

Off message but I had a glorious country walk yesterday.  Started in Finchingfield, Essex which is often described as the county's "prettiest village".  The weather was perfect - warm and sunny.  It is not that often you can wear shorts and a shirt in this country during October.

It was a little sad to come across these iron watermills rusting away. An important part of our history will one day just disappear. Mind you, it is now a beautiful and peaceful spot.

If you have a Facebook account I have posted more pictures here.  Once again despite being only 50 minutes drive from Forest Gate in East London there were very few other walkers. 

TUC Member Trustee Network annual conference 2011

I have just paid for my ticket to this year's TUC Member Trustee Network annual conference 2011.  Book here.

"Date: Tuesday 15 November 2011
Venue: Congress House, London WC1B 3LS

Market volatility has caused worrying fluctuations in funding levels and left pension funds facing an uncertain investment outlook.

At the same time, the Stewardship Code has given asset owners and managers new responsibilities in relation to the companies whose shares they hold. How do pension fund trustees combine their responsibilities towards investee companies with their fiduciary duties towards their members?

This conference will explore these issues and help trustees navigate the investment, stewardship and regulatory challenges that they face.
Speakers include:
  • Steve Webb MP, Minister of State for Pensions
  • Dr Paul Woolley, LSE
  • Kay Carberry, TUC
  • Alexis Krajeski, F&C
  • Will Oulton, Mercer
  • Ivan Walker, Thompsons
  • Christine Berry, Fair Pensions
  • Victoria Nye, Investment Governance Group
  • Steve Baker
Enquiries: Jennifer Mann 0207 467 1222, Email:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

West Ham Ward Street Surgery (and getting the Vote Out for Ken)

After my offical surgery yesterday in the Rokeby Community Centre (where apparently Katie, the Duchess of Cambridge, made a very successful private visit to the centre last week and had lunch with staff and users) I went on a Street Surgery with fellow West Ham Councillor Ron Manley (left of centre picture) and top ward secretary John Whitworth (right).

We knocked on doors and introduced ourselves to local residents and asked if they had any issues that they wanted to speak to us about.  It may have been the blue skies and warm sunshine but we had a really good reception.  We obviously reminded everyone about the GLA election next year and the importance of getting rid of Johnson as the Coalition Tory London Mayor. 

The only clear "Against" I came across had a poor opinion of all politicians and spoke highly of Arthur Lewis (former Labour MP for the area until deselected in 1983) as a "man of the people...who you could stop in the street and talk to...".  I did not live in Newham at the time and understand that many who did, had a somewhat alternative view of Arthur.  However, Mr Against, also had let me say, an extremely poor opinion (expressed in fluent east end), of Mayor Johnson, so Ken may still be in with a chance. 

Other residents expressed concern about anti-social behaviour by local youths (a tiny, tiny minority of all young people) and rogue "Rachman" private sector landlords who do not care about the state of their properties and do nothing about the bad behaviour of some of their residents.  There are a number of initiatives that the Council and West Ham Police Safer Neighbourhood team are carrying out at the moment against ASB in this area which I expect to make a big difference.  While the Council's pioneering initiative to try and licence all private landlords is I think potentially brilliant.  Protecting tenants and their neighbours, encouraging good landlords and attacking the bad. Great stuff.

Across Newham yesterday and today there has been similar door knocking by Councillors and local Labour Party members.  We are also carrying out telephone surveys of West Ham residents. 

One other story I came across yesterday was from an Newham resident about how she was complaining bitterly about this rotten Tory Coalition government when her daughter interrupted her to say "Mum, you can't complain about this don't bother to vote at the election last year"... and to be fair to Mum, she accepted this and just grinned somewhat sheepishly.   Lesson learnt.

Housing Association Workers up for fight to protect pensions

On Friday I had a lunchtime workplace AGM with UNISON members in Bow, East London. 

The current ballot for strike action was the number one topic.  Members agreed to work for a successful "YES" vote  and if a strike is called on November 30th to support the action and the planned London wide March and Rally.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Happy 1st Birthday Association Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT)

On Thursday I went to the first anniversary meeting of the Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT) at JP Morgan in Moorgate.  The AMNT is a national forum and network for member nominated pension trustees and representatives. I missed the AGM in the morning but was able to attend the afternoon session.  The new AMNT web site (see right) was also launched.  Join here for free if you are a member nominated trustee or rep of any pension scheme.

In the afternoon we had report backs on our AMNT working groups. 

I chair the Defined Benefit Working Group and gave a brief presentation on our work to defend and promote DB schemes.  I was probably the first person ever to offer trade union fraternal greetings and invite people to join a pension picket line to such an audience at such a location.

We then had a presentation on "Is shorter-term equity investing an issue for our Pension Schemes?" by Professor Paul Sweeting who works for JP Morgan and the University of Kent.  I asked him about the problem that short term investors (by definition) cannot act as owners and make sure that the managers of companies act in their owners' interests and not their own.  Paul recognised that this could be a problem but thought that the advantages that such investors bring to the market in terms of liquidity out weigh this (hmmnn - I'm not convinced).
                                                                                                        Next we had the MD of Pitmans, Richard Butcher brief us on "Should Master Trusts incorporate MNTs? I think that there was a consensus that Master Trusts should be legally obliged to have MNTs on their boards. We then spilt into work groups, debated various burning trustee issues and reported back to the main meeting.  Afterwards we retreated to the "Red Herring" pub to properly reflect on and celebrate the first anniversary of the AMNT and our plans for the year ahead.

Escape from One Barnet

"On Tuesday 13 September UNISON members who have been balloted on Trade Dispute against the One Barnet programme took strike action

The Council took a decision that if staff refused to sign a register to say they would work a full day they would be asked to leave. in effect the Council imposed a 'lock out!'

Our members are committed public servants and who believe in the public sector ethos, wanted to find a way to educate and inform work colleagues and more importantly residents who use public services in Barnet"

Next Strike Tuesday 18 October 2011. Check out Barnet UNISON LG branch site here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Debate "Should trade unionists support the Labour Party?"

I have been invited to debate "Should trade unionists support the Labour Party? with the London branch of the Socialist Party (Great Britain).  I have of course accepted (personal capacity only). The agreed invite will state:-

"Bill Martin (Socialist Party Speaker).
John Gray (Labour Party Activist and Blogger -
"Should trade unionists support the Labour Party"

Thursday 17th November 1930hrs. @ Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, London, N7 6PA.   (Nearest Tube Holloway Road.)
I do not know that much about the SP(GB) except some of them have posted a few comments on this blog over the years.  While I would not always agree with all their comments they have usually been pretty thoughtful and intelligent (unlike their evil wannabe doppelgangers).  I was also very fond of the regular East End historical and political columns by the late Robert Barltrop in the Newham Recorder, who was a member of the SP(GB) for many years (he did eventually leave).
I look forward to the debate on the 17th November (which by coincidence is in the same building as my UNISON branch office).   There will also be apparently a YouTube video recording of the debate. 
Picture above is of some of the Labour Party banners that took part in the Labour movement TUC March for Jobs, Growth and Justice on March 26th.  Double click pic to bring up detail.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

UNISON Pension Strike Ballot Paper

I came home from work this evening to find this ballot paper in the post.  I marked X, put it in the free post envelope and went to the nearest post box.
Hint, Hint

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Viva La Quince Brigada

On the short drive to my Labour Party EC tonight, unusually, I had Radio 2 on and by chance listened to the Mike Harding Show.  This was a listeners request special. First record I heard was Woody Guthrie Tear The Fascists Down, then this version of Viva La Quince Brigada requested by the proud grandson of a British member of International Brigade followed by this beautiful song by The Unthanks — Here's The Tender Coming. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vote YES in Public Service Pension Strike Ballot: Fair Pensions for all

Dear Members

Vote YES in Public Service Pension Strike Ballot
Look out for the ballot papers in your post during the next few days asking you to vote for industrial action.

We are asking you to vote YES since the proposed changes are just not fair.

The pensions dispute affects thousands of UNISON members in community and voluntary organisations. This is about your future, about the sort of life you want when you stop working.

Hundreds of employers outside the public sector participate in the Local Government and NHS pension schemes – so that employees transferring into them from the public sector can remain in the schemes.

As a result, thousands of UNISON Community service group members are affected by the changes to public sector pensions that are being proposed by ministers. The proposals will mean those members will pay more for their pension, if they earn more than £15,000 a year. Most of them will work much longer. And changes already imposed mean their pension is already worth less and they will receive less when they retire. 

Not a penny of this major increase in contributions will go towards improving the pension scheme. Instead it will go to the Treasury to pay for the excesses of the bankers. 

The proposed changes will harm Community UNISON members just as much as those in the public sector, and we say enough is enough

UNISON is therefore balloting thousands of members in community and voluntary organisations and housing associations, so that they too can have their say. (It may be that some members who are not in a relevant pension scheme have been included in the ballot. This is ok – not every member within any employer has to be affected for all members within that employer to be balloted on that issue.)

Vote YES, and make it clear to ministers that what they are proposing is unacceptable. 

Yours faithfully

John Gray
Branch Secretary