Wednesday, February 29, 2012

West Ham CLP phone bank

Picture right is of West Ham Labour Party phone bank volunteers about to start calling people this evening in our headquarters in Stratford. On left is Mark Lewis who with Alan Griffiths has set up the weekly phone bank. Then our ringer London Assembly member, John Biggs in middle, then yet another John (Armitage) on the right.

It was a successful session and we had a good reaction from residents. I spoke to a number of people in my ward who were pleased to contacted by their Councillor even though they could not think of anything to complain about at the time.  I did pick up Councillor case work and surgery appointments. See the colourful backdrop in the picture and you may recognise certain photos (I should claim copyright!)

Save Our NHS Rally 7 March 18:00 Central Hall London

Check out details about the NHS Rally next week at Central Hall, Westminister. 6pm to 7.30pm.

Sign up here to attend. If you cannot make it in person then you can join in via a live webcast.

"Together, we’re going to send the strongest possible message to Cameron and Clegg that they need to start listening, and drop this Health Bill".

Hat tip TULO.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

London Marathon 2012 Wk 19: Ken's Fare Deal

The training for this year's London Marathon is still going relatively well except for ongoing sensitivity in my left knee. I'm trying to do more stretches and sessions on the "wobble board". So far so good. It
hasn't stopped me running but must keep an eye on it.

This week's "best run" was on Saturday when I did a 2 hour session delivering Labour "Ken's Fare Deal" tabloid leaflets (see right) starting off from Forest Gate, picking up leaflets on route then delivering around my ward in West Ham.

I am ashamed to say that in a moment of weakness I took the lift up the 21 storey tower block, David Lee Point and then ran down. However, I did run up its sister block, Brasset Point then back home via West Ham Park. The views of East London from the top of both tower blocks is spectacular. Delivering leaflets is stop start and probably nearer a jogging pace than a "run" but there is some useful "uphill" workout from going up stairs in blocks of flats.

I am running the London marathon on 22 April 2012 while sort of using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for a valuable homeless charity for Young People called "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me on the Justgiving website.

Monday, February 27, 2012

UNISON Labour Link (APF) London Regional elections 2012

Dear Colleagues

Strictly in my personal capacity I would request that you consider supporting the following candidates in these elections. Please pass on to any other branches you think may support us.

REGIONAL LABOUR LINK COMMITTEE Male Seats 5 votes (blue paper)



GRAY, John


NATIONAL LABOUR LINK FORUM Male seats 3 Votes (yellow paper)



NATIONAL LABOUR LINK FORUM Female Seats 5 Votes (pink paper)
ALASHIA, Sanchia


DAVIES, Doreen

HANSON, Gloria


LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE 2012 General Seat 1 Vote (pink paper)


Many thanks please give me a ring if you have any queries. Ballot papers have to be back to Cally Thompson at Regional office by 12 noon Friday 16 March 2011. You can fax by 020 7535 2105.

Don't forget to sign up for London Labour Link forum by this Thursday 1 March (the Forum takes place the following Tuesday 6 March 4.30-6pm at the new UNISON centre). Later that day 6-8pm at the Centre there is a launch event on a campaign pack for Ken Livingston and the GLA candidates. Ken will be there to say a few words. This invite is for all activists.

John Gray

"Britain and Europe: Which way for Labour?"

Last week I attended (late) the joint meeting with Newham Compass and Fabians on "Britain and Europe: Which way for Labour?". Which took place at the West Ham FC supporters club in Castle Street, East Ham (now
what would Alf Garnett have made of this?)

Jon Cruddas MP, who was billed as a speaker with former MEP Anita Pollack, could not attend since he had to vote on the Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Commons (a very honourable excuse).

I only made the Q&A but Anita (who lives in Newham and was the former MEP for London South West from 1989 to 1999) was I thought on form and gave a passionate, no nonsense  and honest response to questions. It was one of the best attended Newham Compass or Fabians events that I have attended in recent times. It was chaired by former Newham Labour Councillor Graham Lane.

Please note my usual disclaimer about the absolute accuracy of my hurried and fumbled (two thumbed) Blackberry notes.

Anita responded to a question about the power of MEPs. She reminded us that in the beginning, the European Parliament had very limited powers. In 1979 it could only refuse to accept the budget set by the (unelected) European commission. Nowadays the Parliament has equal powers with commission. MEP's do have power. For example they managed to transform the recent Service Directive. Which is still not perfect but could have completely eroded workers rights had MEP's not amended it out of all recognition.

She then had a question about whether a Referendum on continued membership of the EU was not a good idea to settle the issue once and for all. Anita was firmly against. She understood that some good Europeans such as Jon Cruddas MP were for a referendum for this reason. However she thought that the "flat earthers" (those totally and utterly against the EU) would not be convinced if they lost a referendum in the same way that the one in 1977 (during which she admitted she opposed membership) did not settle anything permanently at all.

Anita admitted that she had maybe been wrong about UK membership of the Euro and it was not going to work. She was surprised however that Ed Balls MP in the Andrew Marr TV show on Sunday had said that this would not happen "in  his lifetime". There could be a "two speed Europe" with the Original 6 EU members forming a separate political and economic union. 

She had not read the full text but she understood that the EU Socialist Group was very much against. the "economic straight jacket" being proposed.

She noted amusingly that in America the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, had been criticised for speaking French. When a good comrade made a separate point about British cultural isolation  by saying he had lived for "20 years in Europe mainly in France" Anita interrupted by saying "you have lived all your life in Europe, we are in Europe now".

Anita Greens was firm in response to a question about aliening to the Greens who were "pink socialists". In her view they were not at all "socialist". There was some good people in the Greens but many are in "Cloud cuckoo land". While you can work with individuals such as Caroline Lucas they are not "soft pink". Some of them she had come across in Europe had even believed in Eugenics. The Greens have different political values, they are not socialists even if we agree with some of their policies. 

A few of us stayed behind afterwards to continue to put Europe (and the world) to rights.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

UNISON London Labour Link (APF) Elections 2012

This is our election statement. I will post the full slate later (which will include others who put forward a separate statement).

"We are seeking election to represent the views of APF payers in the London Region on the Regional Labour Link Committee and at the National Labour Link Forum.

The Tory-led Coalition Government continues to drive through its plans to privatise our schools and NHS, and cut essential public services and jobs which hit the poor and the vulnerable hardest.  We need to get all our members involved in the Labour Party at all levels, through affiliating to their local CLP and building links with local Councillors and MP’s to ensure that their views are heard and understood and that trade union issues are kept on the political agenda.  We need to use our influence in the Labour Party to campaign for a real alternative to the coalition’s damaging cuts.

As active UNISON and Labour Party members we support the link we have with the Labour Party, and strongly believe in supporting the Party, but also in campaigning for or against change where it impacts on our members.

The recent statements made by the Labour Party leadership about public sector pay restraint and cuts have been very unwelcome and unhelpful.  We believe the best way to respond is to be part of campaigns within the Party to reverse the leadership’s decision to back these damaging policies.

In less than 3 months Labour faces its biggest electoral challenge since the General Election – the London elections.  We are proud of the role our union has played in the campaign to date, but we must do more in the last few essential weeks to get every UNISON member in London voting Labour.  It’s time to get rid of Boris Johnson and Brian Coleman and return Ken Livingstone to City Hall and a Labour majority on the GLA".

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Never (ever) Buy the Sun

Stopping the LGPS being "ripped off"?

This was posted in UNISONactive last week. "The FT recently published a series of letters on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and the pros and cons of fund mergers. Michael Johnson of the Centre for Policy Studies takes stock of the debate and states that potential economies of scale which could be achieved by mergers are 'not in the (pensions) industry’s interests, but very much in the interests of scheme members' and that 'local councils should take the lead and confront the staggeringly inefficient LGPS.'

Comprising 101 separate funds, these should be merged into five regional operations, to facilitate pooled administration and procurement; each would have some £30bn in assets. In time, they would become “expert clients” capable of extracting best value from the financial services industry, and enjoying the other benefits of scaling up': (you have to register with the FT to see these reports).

I must admit that I agree that the £150 billion Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) is being "ripped off" by the financial services industry (with honourable exceptions) and we need to look at structural change. For example I understand that total commission payments to brokers more than doubled between 2003 and 2007, the result of portfolio turnover tripling over that period.

Boris THE OMEN: Branch Labour Link report

This was my Annual Report to the UNISON Housing Association Branch as the Labour Link officer

"We had a well attended branch Labour Link meeting at the House of Commons with Shadow Housing minister Alison Seabeck MP as keynote speaker. Next year we will try to get the new shadow Jack Dormey MP to a similar event.

In 2011 branch activists have been out campaigning for Labour. They have taken part in street stalls, telephone and door to door canvassing. We have also taken an active part in the formation of a new London branch of the Labour Housing Group.

The big battle in 2012 will be over the GLA Mayoral elections in May. It is absolutely vital we do all we can
to get rid of Tory Mayor Boris Johnson and elect Ken Livingstone. This will also send a message to the
government to stop and think again about the disastrous economic policies they are following. Below is a message from Ken Livingstone to all members of our branch.

“Each week, I meet too many Londoners struggling on waiting lists, and living in overcrowded or
Unsuitable accommodation, who represent the reality of London’s social housing shortage. The facts show that these are some of the Londoners worst let down by Boris Johnson. The Tory Mayor should be ashamed that on his watch, London has had the biggest decrease in house building in the country, and just 56 affordable homes have been built in the last six months.

Tackling the shortage of homes in the capital and undertaking a large scale programme to build social housing will be one of my priorities if elected next mayor.  

Londoners need a Mayor who is on their side and committed to taking action on the big issues that
matter to them like housing, transport and crime.” Contact to volunteer. 

John Gray
(hat tip caption Col. Roi)

Friday, February 24, 2012

London Marathon 2012 Wk 17: Gotham City and the Roding Way

Run of the week was on Saturday - 1 hr 50 minutes. It was a lovely, bright and quite warm day. The picture (right) is from a 2009 walk on a similar route that I posted upon here. I have a problem with my camera which means that I cannot download photos at this moment.  Double click to bring
up detail but it is striking to see the Canary Wharf high rise office blocks from across Wanstead flats.

After the flats then I went along the Roding Way then after 50 minutes, I came off and ended up at Hermon Hill, Wanstead. I then went via Snaresbrook (A cheery UNISON branch secretary walking by recognised me and said "Hello John"), past Eagle Pond and through Leyton Flats, Bush Wood and then back home. A really good run but while my Achilles heal is much, much better I now have a "niggle" with my left knee. hmmm.

I am running the London marathon in April 2012 while sort of using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for a homeless charity for Young People called "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me on the Justgiving website.

Greedy Tosser ft MC Cameron

Not directed at my generation. Did ABBA ever do anything similar in the 1980's about Thatcher? Hat tip Gaza 

UNISON Housing Association Branch AGM 2012

Picture from my branch AGM held last week at the UNISON centre in Euston.  The branch has 3500 members working in 180 different employers in Greater London and the South East.  We organise and represent all Housing Association staff staff, whatever post they hold. Sixty per cent of branch members are women. We have over 150 elected local representatives.

I had been been re-elected (unopposed) as Branch Secretary. The guest speaker was Sean Baine from the Equality Trust who spoke on "Why inequality is bad for all of us - and what we should do about it".   Sign the "Fair London" petition calling for the London Mayor candidates to take action on income inequality in London (Ken Livingstone is the only mainstream candidate to have signed). A branch motion "Why Income Equality at Work is Better for Everyone" will be going to 2012 UNISON National Delegate Conference.

By coincidence Sean had worked with our office manager Moira in Haringay Council 30 years before (see left of picture next to our branch Chair Joel Bodmer). This was the first time they had met since then. Sean was also the CEO of Stepney Neighbourhood when I worked for Tower Hamlets (don't think we met).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Virgin Media are...simply rubbish

Guest post Ebrahim Piperdy: "I am currently a customer with Virgin Media and have been for 12 years. As we all know it was previously NTL and I can remember how one of their staff left a rude voice mail for all customers to hear. This was due to a lack of staff available to deal with customer enquires, the poor customer service continues.

Recently I have managed to buy a house. However this could have been made more difficult had I not complained to the Information Commissioner and my credit agency. Virgin Media did not setup my Direct Debit properly which caused my payment to be missed. As this affects my credit rating, I would be restricted in choosing a good mortgage lender.  Virgin Media competence could have meant that my mortgage was refused!

Fair enough mistakes can be made but what puzzled me was the lack of understanding by Virgin Media in what I was requesting them to do. All I was asking was for them to write to the credit rating agencies to put the record straight. They didn’t do this.

I subsequently sent them a “Breach of Data Protection Notice” in which they did not even respond to. They had to do so within a set time frame. I then threatened them with County Court action and wrote to the Information Commissioner. I outlined they were in breach of the Data Protection Act in which they must hold accurate information about customers.

I still exchanged a few emails with Virgin Media. Eventually I believe they took the hint as to what I was going to do which was to make a claim to the County Court. I would have referred to Liz Ferguson v British Gas. Liz Ferguson became a former customer of British Gas but she still received letters from them requesting she make payment.

Liz Ferguson was successful in reaching a settlement for the harassment this caused. I too would have been and any person can do so as long as you have communicated with the other party enough to bring to their attention what they are doing wrong. The link to the case is

In all Virgin Media are poor. I think they need to look hard at what they can do to improve the service offered to current customers and not focus on wooing new customers". (Click on "virgin media" label underneath for more sorry tales about Virgin Media and its dear leader)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Without Mercy...75th anniversary of Guernica

This is the 75th anniversary of Guernica.

"26 April 1937. The Nazi Luftwaffe backed Franco's fascists with the first ever carpet bombing of an undefended civilian target, Guernica.

This atrocity horrified the world and helped to shift public opinion behind the Spanish Republican cause, though shamefully not that of the British Government, which stuck steadfastly to its 'non-intervention' line.

George Steer's eyewitness acount in The Times described what he saw as 'without mercy, with system', words that remain tragically pertinent to the bloody legacy of carpet bombing in conflicts ever since.

Philosophy Football's anniversary T-shirt, reflecting Picasso's famous painting, bears witness to Guernica and is available from here".

Andrew Lansley World

Hat tip Johninnit

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A day in the life of an Union official

Great Guardian feature on top UNISON branch secretary, Angela Rayner. My last post was an evening with Neville Lawrence, this one, is a "full-on" day in the life of a Union official.

Angela typifies the very best of UNISON and how it can grow its activists. "I grew up on a council estate and was pregnant at 16, only able to afford clothes from a charity shop. I was told I'd never amount to anything and would be living in a council house, on benefits with loads of kids by the time I was 30.

That's not me, though I wouldn't judge someone if they were in that situation. But I have three lovely kids, live in my own house and have a great job – I've had to earn respect the hard way, starting as a home help when I left school."

She has gone from one the youngest home helps in Stockport Council to being a steward then branch assistant branch secretary to now being the elected branch secretary on a very busy full time secondment.

Monday, February 20, 2012

An evening with Neville Lawrence OBE

An Evening with Neville Lawrence OBE. Patron of the Arc Theatre this Thursday 23 February 2012.

Doors open 6:30pm for 7:00pm seating at the Ripple Centre, 121 Ripple Road, Barking IG11 7FN

With a special performance of Arc’s ‘Girl E’
by Clifford Oliver, directed by Carole Pluckrose

Tickets: Only £10 each including buffet, donation bar and raffle

To book: call Nita Bocking at Arc on 020 8594 1095 or email
(Payment can be made by cash, cheque or paypal)

Hat tip Sanchia

Interview with Asahi Shimbun Correspondent

Last week I was interviewed by Wataru Sawamura (picture left) who is a correspondent for the Japanese newspaper "Asahi Shimbun". This is the 2nd most popular paper in Japan. He had also interviewed previously our Regional Equalities Convenor, Monica Hirst who is a NHS nurse. Wataru explained that he is interested in finding out more about the human cost of austerity in the public sector but also in Japan the public sector was seen as offering secure employment.  Many Japanese who work in the sector were worried about their future and what was happening to such jobs elsewhere.

I tried to explain the impact of housing benefit cuts in London which will result in the "cleansing" of the poor from much of London. Wataru understood this concern and expressed his view that one of the notable things about London is that the poor and the rich lived next door to each other unlike other more polarised capital cities such as Paris.

We also discussed that in the UK many public services such as the care and support of the elderly and the disabled are provided by the  third sector ("not for profit" Housing associations and charities). Yet currently there was a race to the gutter by some providers and commissioners of such services. Decent providers are being undercut by rogues (Rachman Employers) who win contacts to care for the vulnerable by sacking and demoting workers while also slashing their pay and conditions.  

Wataru had not heard of the book "The Spirit Level" and its praise of Japan as being the most equal society in the world with regard to income inequality and the benefits that come from this. I said that in my understanding in Japan unlike the UK if an organisation has genuine economic difficulties then their managers will usually act as leaders and volunteer for pay cuts before asking their staff for sacrifices. In the UK some care and support charities cut the pay of their (already low paid) staff and then go on to pay their senior management team bonuses for reducing such costs.

Wataru accepted that in Japan mangers did take their responsibilities carefully but in recent year’s most new jobs had been on short term agency contracts so many Japanese are very worried about the future direction that their society will take.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Newham Compass & Fabians "Britain & Europe: Which way for Labour?"

Reminder: "Britain and Europe: Which way for Labour?" debate will take place 7.30pm on Tuesday 21st February at the West Ham Supporters' Club - Castle Street, off Green Street. Near the
junction with Barking Road. Nearest tube Upton Lane.

Guest speakers Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Anita Pollack, former MEP for London South West from 1989 to 1999

A free event (collection after meeting) organised by the local branches of Newham Compass and the Fabians. Double click flyer on right to bring up more details of event.

(I have a clash so am not sure if I can make it - which is a pity)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mike Law playing the Hokey Pokey for the first time

(Warning this is a Newham thingy). I've been sent this very sweet YouTube link of Newham ex-Tory, Mike Law, when he first played the "Hokey Pokey" at a young age (no skinhead haircut for sure).

Big Bad Mikey (BBM) has recently closed his blog (blaming me) then reopened it (blaming me) then closed it again to the "uninvited" (me and ?). Now he has reopened it again, but hasn't posted anything (yet). Will he close it again? (and take his ball away?).

Who knows :)

Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust

On Saturday March 3rd it is the anniversity of the Bethnal Green tube disaster... "a crowd of people entered Bethnal Green tube station which was used at the time as an air-raid shelter. After the searchlights went on and an anti-aircraft battery a few hundred yards away in Victoria Park launched a salvo of a new type of anti-aircraft rockets the crowd surged forward. Someone tripped on the stairs causing many others to fall. 300 people were crushed into the stairwell within a few seconds, 173 of them died and over 90 were injured. The worst civilian disaster of the 2nd World War.

Full planning permission has now been granted by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for the Memorial to be built. Now all we need to do is raise the money".... " The Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust has been raising funds to bring a permanent memorial to the site, to honour those whose lives were devastated by the tragedy. 69 years to the day, Tower Hamlets councillors from all political parties will be uniting to take part in a sponsored 5k run in Victoria Park, hoping to raise at least £5,000 for the memorial.

Please donate HERE to support this important cause – and feel free to join in the run or come along to cheer us across the finishing line! The run will start at 2pm on Saturday 3 March 2012.
For more information contact either:
Cllr Amy Whitelock –
Cllr Carlo Gibbs –
Cllr Lesley Pavitt –
For more information about the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust visit:"
(I use to work in the Tower Hamlets LG UNISON office in nearby York Hall and would go up and down those same steps most days of the week. This is a good cause to support).

Friday, February 17, 2012

London Regional Council Officer Election Results 2012


HANSON Gloria         122 Elected 

THOMPSON Marsha Jane  69


LAWRENCE Conroy  118 Elected 

WATKINS Phoebe       71 


GRAY John                 126 Elected



BAIN Naomi          71 

BENTLEY Lynn    112 Elected


CASHMAN Ruth   69

HIRST Monica       118 Elected  

Tony Cliff (a life trying to smell the workers’ whisky)

Below is a review of a wannabee hagiography by long term SWP member Ian Birchall of Tony Cliff, the founder of the Trotskite revolutionary "Socialist Workers Party" (SWP). It is by Will Podmore who let us say is not that much of a fan of the SWP.

I meet Cliff once in Bethnal Green shortly before his death at a meeting to "celebrate" a strike which I had taken part in. The lead up to this meeting was pretty weird and Cliff was treated by his supporters as some sort of really, really important being who if you met him would change your life. However, despite the fact at the meeting that I didn't agree with him on a number of points and described the role of the SWP in our dispute as being our "useful idiots" he was pretty polite back and even quite good humoured. Anyway, the review of the book by Will Podmore....

"Ian Birchall, a long-time Socialist Workers Party member, has written a revealing account of its founder and leader, Tony Cliff. In 1936, Cliff did a year of paid work, after which he never did another day’s paid work in his life. He was never a member of a trade union, but this did not stop him spending the rest of his life telling trade union members what to do (like a monk telling us how to conduct our family lives).

Birchall calls Cliff’s notion that Russia was state capitalist his ‘major contribution to Marxist theory’. But it was neither new nor true. The renegade Karl Kautsky called Russia state capitalist in 1919. Capitalist classes use the state to grow the economy, but when a working class uses its state power to grow a socialist economy, Cliff denounced it as capitalist.

Cliff’s hatred of the Soviet Union led him to back nationalists, as long as they were anti-Soviet terrorists as well. In 1955, he praised the CIA-backed Ukrainian Resurgent Army, anti-Soviet terrorists who attacked the Red Army from 1942 to 1949. So, later, along with Thatcher and Reagan, he backed the Afghan mujehadin terrorists against the Red Army (see, for example, Socialist Worker, 4 February 1989.)

Similarly, Cliff praised looters and rioters, as in 1981, “The riots and looting have been fantastic, but they have not gone far enough. Because they have not been organised, the kids have attacked shops when they should have been attacking factories.”

The SWP still always misreads situations. For example, Birchall writes here that in 1980 “the industrial downturn was accompanied by a political upturn.” His evidence? Labour party members’ votes for Tony Benn - as if Benn’s brief rise (and inevitable fall) outweighed the dreadful effects of the millions of jobs lost in Thatcher’s onslaught.

Cliff always attacked ‘trade union bureaucrats’, falsely posing rank-and-file (good) against bureaucrats (bad). This was to split our unions. Cliff claimed that he wanted the SWP to have ‘worker leadership’, yet ensured that it was always led by full-time SWP staff (surely, bureaucrats?), living off other members’ dues. The SWP mimics the old CPGB organisation, of full-timers telling workers what to do, and its strategy, of seizing union positions in order to tell the members what to do.

Cliff made a policy of interfering in workers’ affairs. He urged the SWP to make “individual interventions in individual disputes. In ninety cases out of a hundred we will do it from outside.” He said, “We need to get back to the basics of trade union organisation – solidarity at every level between workers.” No - organising at the workplace is the basis. Without workplace organisation, solidarity is nothing.

The weaker the class, the more it allows the SWP to influence it, and the more influence the SWP has in a union, the worse the outcome for the class. For example, during the steelworkers’ strike of 1980, Cliff travelled the country speaking to steelworkers. The strike failed, with disastrous results. The SWP carried out the same ‘death by solidarity’ on the Fire Brigades Union in 2005, and is trying to do the same in the pensions dispute.

The SWP always proposes the wrong strategy and the wrong tactics: a general strike now is always the only right thing to do, whatever the situation (and as if 1926 was not a disaster).
The SWP takes in idealistic young people and burns them out. It spreads confusion and demoralisation and causes only harm to our class.

The central Trotskyist message to workers is ‘you can’t do it on your own’, which boils down to ‘you can’t do it’, which is why no Trotskyist group has ever won power anywhere, or ever will. Hence Cliff’s (inevitably ignorant) interference in other countries’, and other unions’, internal affairs.
Birchall wants his ‘lovingly crafted biography’ to help build the SWP. Instead, it will surely put people off having anything to do with a group that is not even a squalid travesty of a Bolshevik party".  Will Podmore.

(See my best mate ever, former trot and fellow blogging libel survivor Dave Osler on Trotsky and the importance of "smelling of the workers whiskey") 

Hope you enjoyed the inside YouTube story of the central committee of the SWP (now sadly dated) by Icepicker.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why Income Equality at Work is better for everyone

This is my speech to the UNISON London Regional Council AGM last week on Motion 4 "Why Income Equality at Work is better for everyone". Which was passed and selected as a regional motion to send to our national conference.

"Council, Convenor, John  Gray Housing Assocaition Branch moving motion 4. "Why Income Equality at Work is better for everyone". Council, Let us not forget that it is not just the Bankers and the Executives in the private sector who have been filling their pockets with other peoples money to a degree out of all recognition to their worth. In the traditional public sector and in supposedly “Not for profit” organisations, who provide public services, you also find that many Executives and members of the SMT have in recent years, enjoyed massive pay rises and massive increases in their income. We use the example of the CEO of the housing and social care association, Anchor, who earned over 330k last year - up 14%. At a time when many of her employees, doing a difficult and demanding job, caring for the frail and the vulnerable, earn little more than minimum wage. Nearly 30 times less.

For crying out aloud, Anchor Housing, was originally set up by the respected charity “Help the Aged”. This pattern of greed at the top for a few and poverty for the many at the bottom is repeated in many other private and public organisations providing public services up and down the country.

This issue is not just about fairness or social justice nor is it about the so called “politics of envy”. Such vast and growing inequalities in income are not just morally wrong it is deeply damaging and destructive to those organisations that allow it.

In the same way as researchers for the book “The Spirit Level” found compelling evidence that the more unequal societies are, with regard to incomes, the more rotten the society. The more unequal the greater the death rates of new born babies; the greater the levels of mental illness; the greater the drug abuse; the greater the violence; the greater the ignorance and squalor. It is ironic that the day after the 200th birthday of the birth of Charles Dickens, we still find in our own Capital city, one of the very richest cities in the world, that your life expectancy, how long you live, is determined largely by how affluent the postal code is in the area you happen to have been born in.

With regard to income inequality in the work place it is not enough for us to simply condemn but to explain to our members how harmful it is not only to society but to that workplace– If you are managed by not just highly paid or people on a good earning but the super rich; while most workers struggle to keep their head above the water - it is corrosive it is divisive. It causes low staff morale and poor service; it causes resentment and mistrust from our clients, residents and services users who after all have to pay for all this inequality.

We are told that there is no choice, competition is king, the market must decide the rate of pay, yet there is a choice. There are successful modern countries in the world such as Sweden where there is much, much less inequality. Where for example trade unions reps sit on boards and remuneration committees as a matter of course. They have done this for decades and act on as a brake on greed. There are countries such as Japan were if there are economic problems, managers become leaders and will often be the first to volunteer for pay curbs or restraint. Unlike in my sector, where yesterday I found out that staff at project being tuped over to a supposed charity, who had won a tender, were told by this charity that they had to have pay cuts and low jobs since they had to “pay their way” to keep to the new contract. While at the same time the SMT of that organisation pays itself massive bonuses to reward themselves for winning new business. This culture, this attitude, this view of life, can and must change.

The Equality Trust is the charitable arm set up by the authors of the Spirit level to promote income equality. Please also consider affiliating your own branches to them. Next week they are coming to my branch AGM to speak to us about what we can do to help bring about change.

Finally Council remember that greater income equality at the work place will make it a better place and help bring about greater income equality in our society, which will make it a better world for all.

Thank you please support this motion (orignal motion similar to this)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reminder: UNISON Housing Association Branch AGM 2012

The race to the bottom is destroying care and support

Guest post by Joel Bodmer who is the UNISON Housing Association Branch Young Members officer. Joel works as a mental health support worker.

"There is at present a real crisis in the care and support sector, which seems to be hardly recognised or seems to attract a great deal of attention. There is currently a race to the bottom of epidemic proportions in social care, which although the causes are numerous, primarily stems from two government policy changes.

Firstly following the coalition’s 2010 comprehensive spending review, Local Authorities have been under incredible pressure faced with the reduction of revenue budgets by 28% over a 4 year period. How these cuts have been absorbed has of course been a matter of political choices.

Secondly the removing of the ring fencing of supporting people funding from 2009, has meant that local authorities could effectively raid money that was intended to be used for services for vulnerable people and use it elsewhere. Likewise of course here political choices by local authorities come into play here too, but the fact is local government has a legal obligation to provide statutory services, so even many well meaning authorities have been forced to divert this cash elsewhere. Quite literally robbing peter to pay paul.

Faced with such harsh cuts and often the diversion of funds from supporting people, it is frequently the “soft” services that suffer. The real tragedy is the short termism in this approach. It is the preventative services that are suffering, whereas greater investment could really reduce the strain on Social Services and the NHS.

Whatever the mantra so often repeated by commissioners that quality still matters, it has been an inevitable fact the emphasis has shifted almost purely to cost based procurement. A bizarre process of reverse auctions, gambling with the provision of services for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Like local authorities, Housing Associations that provide care and support have had choices to make too, they have been forced to reflect, to take stock and think about what they do and why. There has been an array of responses to the challenges faced.

The crisis has highlighted the calibre of many good organisations; those who have refused to engage in the merciless race to the gutter and those who have prided themselves on the quality of the services they provide. These organisations have refused to bid to deliver services at unaffordable low levels, and have focused on delivering what they can do well.

But likewise the “bad eggs” have been exposed, organisations (we all know who they are) that operate more like rogue traders, winning contracts because they bid at dishonestly low levels, masters of slick bid writing and all the razzmatazz rather than care and support. Of course once they have been awarded a contract they need to find a way of delivering it at below the real cost, such providers then set about restructuring services with a skeleton level of staffing and either failing to accept their legal obligations under Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) or employing new staff at rock bottom wages, and under poor terms and conditions.

It is a real sad situation that as a result of this race to the bottom many skilled and professional staff working in the sector are leaving in droves, many facing redundancy or the lowering of terms and conditions.

Good care and support providers need to lead the fight to re-jig the focus back towards quality, by refusing to engage in the race to the bottom that is so damaging not only to care and support but to society at large. 

The commitment to high standards in services for vulnerable people that is an engrained value of so many people working in our sector can only be achieved by a focus on quality rather than cost.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

London Marathon 2012 Wk 16: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"

My run of the week was on Saturday. I went from Forest Gate and through West Ham then on the Greenway towards Temple Mills. Picture to the right is of the beautiful memorial in Three Mills Green remembering the death of 3 workers at this site who died trying to save a work colleague.

"Of your charity pray for the souls of Thomas Pickett, Godfrey Maule Nicholson, Frederick Eliott and Robert Underhill, who lost their lives in a well beneath this spot on 12 July 1901. The first named while in the execution of his duty was overcome by foul air. The three latter successively descending in heroic efforts to save their comrades shared the same death…".

I then ran past Bow Locks and along the Limehouse Cut into Limehouse Basin while listening on headphones to James Corden who was the guest on Desert Island Discs.  He seems a decent bloke. The Cut was largely frozen. I was surprised to see on the way a site full of tanks and armoured vehicles which I assume belonged to some film company. At Limehouse basin I followed the Thames Walk to Canary Wharf then ran past Billingsgate Market and Tower Hamlets Town Hall (Mulberry Place). Across Canning Town flyover and then up into West Ham again then back home. I stopped off at the station to check on a ward problem. The run took about 2 hours 15 minutes and the last 30 minutes were very slow and very sore.

I am running the London marathon in April 2012 while sort of using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for Homeless charity for Young People "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"No Work, No Money, No Doctor"

Tonight I watched a disturbing Panorama programme called "Poor America". You can watch it on BBC iPlayer soon. The coverage of hungry school kids and tent cities of the homeless poor was a pretty appalling thing to watch take place in the
most wealthy country in the world.

But what was really, really horrifying was the mass charity medical clinics for hundreds of Americans with no health insurance.

Many of whom suffer appalling serious medical conditions that would be dealt with immediately by our NHS without question but in the USA they simply cannot afford to get treated. We also saw videos of one of the leading American Republican Presidential candidates appearing to call for child labour and that none of the rest condemn a scenario that someone in a coma with a treatable disease should be allowed to die if he didn't have the correct medical insurance. 

"No Work, No Money, No Doctor" is what one of the Americans queueing up for treatment outside the  clinic said. Is this our NHS future under Lansley reforms?

How to pitch to the Local Government Pension scheme

Last week I was in "Citywire" magazine (see website here) on how pension fund managers and other financial service providers should "pitch" for business to Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) committee members. The interview had been arranged by the Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT).  I'm a member of their Executive Committee.

I have endured a number of pension "pitches" and so called "beauty parades" over the years. Some are very good but often they are pretty awful. There are some fund managers who may be good at their jobs but should not be allowed to appear in front of well rounded human beings. They forget that their role is not to dazzle us with their brilliance but to persuade us to buy their services.

I have a general rule in life. If I don't understand something I won't buy it. You can also guess what I will do if I don't like the person trying to sell it. I also want to buy a decent house view on investment principles and not a "star performer" not matter how brightly he or she is burning at the time.

The lack of preparation and research is also striking. If they don't even bother to read and understand our scheme Statement of Investment Principles (SIP) before the pitch then I really wonder why they have turned up and wasted their time and mine? 

When you explain that Pension funds should be long term investors who believe that investments in well managed companies who have good governance practises will tend to produce superior returns you can can see the horror, the horror of the ill prepared and the complacent. Sometimes even the wannabee Masters of the Universe truly have no clothes.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

14th Floor: The History of Social Housing in Tower Hamlets

Last week I finally saw the film "14th floor: The History of Social Housing in Tower Hamlets". I've worked as a housing management officer in Tower Hamlets for the last 24 years so as you can imagine I am just a little interested in this subject.

Columbia Buildings (1872) is mentioned which I use to manage in 1992 just before the estate action bid which transformed it into one of the most attractive buildings in the borough.

Good to see Mike Tyrrell and many other Tower Hamlets housing characters talking about their experiences. Mike is now the CEO of Tower Hamlets Community Housing (THCH) and in the film he talks about how his newly appointed staff find it impossible to believe that as a child in the 1960s he and his family lived in a 2 bedroom flat without its own toilet or bath.

I must admit that I disagree with the romanticism of the 27 storey Balfron Towers in Poplar designed by Ernő Goldfinger.  While I personally like living in high rise tower blocks I cannot see how how people ever thought that such monstrosities were ever suitable for young families with children.

There should also been more about the truly radical history of social housing in Tower Hamlets. Such as the role of the suffragettes, rents strikes, defeating the fascists at Cable Street and "Red Stepney". 

I also think that the film was rather spoilt at the end by being too uncritical of modern developments. I have no doubt that there is lots of examples of good decent sustainable social housing developments currently taking place. But for a "history" programme it is just far too soon to judge. Many of the historic estate developments judged now to have been disastrous and knocked down (before even the loans to build them had been paid off) had at the time been thought "wonderful" and won lots of prize's and awards.

The intro video clip is a good taster to the film. I am surprised it is not on YouTube?

UPDATE: Mike Tyrrell corrected me on FaceBook to say it was "not a two bed flat we lived in but a two roomed flat. One room as a bedroom and the other as a living room and kitchen, let alone sharing the toilet on the landing with neighbours!!!!!!!!!!". Retired housing worker Bob Sheldrick also posted "I spent the first 21 years of my life in BG , living on the Horwood Estate- Pott Street. Unlike Mike we did have our own bathroom and toilet but central heating- no chance! We all lived in walk-up blocks back then and I saw mothers with their prams and babies literally climbing 8 flights of stairs". ..and people call those times "the good all days".

No time to say goodbye to Virgin Media (and the bearded one)

I am finally free of Virgin Media and its anti-trade union bearded one! I think that I have been a customer of the cable company (in its various reincarnations) for about 15 years. You can click on the label "Virgin media" below for the back ground. When I saw that disgusting video Richard Branson put out attacking trade union recognition I felt I had no choice but to leave.

It has been quite a journey. I've been shouted at and threatened by their managers, my phone deliberately cut off, complaints ignored and then finally given 4 minutes notice by email that they were cutting off (again) not only my home telephone but this time my TV and broadband service in breach of my contract and against my express instructions!

They didn't dare charge me the £144 they had threatened, however to be honest that given that the senior management at Virgin are so nasty and malicious that I had half expected them to cut me off again. It's pretty pathetic and vindictive. But this is what you come to expect if you are a Virgin Media customer.

Anyway, I am still continuing the fight and have asked for clarification on their useless responses to date and have even asked to be put back on Virgin (I know, I know...but 4 minutes to get someone else is clearly inadequate) until I can get an alternative provider. We will wait and see.

I will post soon on how to to cancel your Virgin Media service. There are much better and cheaper providers out there. The real problem I think with Virgin Media is that it acts like a monopoly and that is why it has such a poor service ethos and is so expensive and unresponsive. I have some ideas on this front. So watch this space.

(ps I love this "Time to Say Goodbye" song and like to post it whenever possible)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"We will never re-elect you if you wreck our NHS..."

Sleeping with the enemy: Ken's offer to Vince about bringing down the Coalition

Today there was a London Labour Party Manifesto meeting at Congress House.  I missed the morning session due to my Council surgery and a Fair Pensions Training on shareholder Activism (which I had to leave early). 

Ken gave a keynote speech to the meeting after lunch and was on form.   He compared the 77% of funding that Boris received during the last Mayor campaign from City Bankers and Hedge fund managers with the 80% he received from trade unions and trade union members. Unlike Boris he was proud of his funding.

Boris is planning to increase fares by 2% above inflation for the next 20 years. If he is elected Ken has pledged to cut tube fares by 7% and bus fares by 11%.

On Housing issues Ken spoke passionately about a London Living rent and a GLA rental agency. He also reaffirmed his commitment to work with London Council (and the LPFA which the Mayor runs) pension funds  to get them to fund investment in Housing. I will of course declare an interest in this subject. I also have never understood why British pension funds do not invest in residential rental properties?

Ken being Ken had to say something to bring a smile to our faces. His despair at this present Coalition government and his wish for it to fall led to him making a typically "Ken" offer to even sleep with Vince Cable if this meant the government would "fold".  An offer that Vince will no doubt....

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rachman Employers: A Branch Secretary Report

On Thursday it is the UNISON Housing Association Branch AGM. This is my contribution to our annual report.

"2011 was a pretty rubbish year for many members. We either had no pay rise or one far below inflation. While in Care and Support, many employees have had their pay, terms and conditions cut. There has been redundancies and job insecurity. The TUPE transfer of staff to Rachman landlords who claim to be “charities” and “social” landlords yet win contracts by deliberately putting in uneconomic bids. Then once they win, they sack, slash, burn and bully staff into leaving or taking huge pay cuts. Knowing full well that at the same time they are putting vulnerable clients at risk. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

But it was not only doom and gloom. The lesson of 2012 is also where we had good union organisation, where there was a higher density of members and an active steward structure, we were able to better defend members, protect jobs and conditions. We made a real difference.

The Public Service Pension strike in November 30th also showed our employers that the branch can deliver effective strike action and picketing. I suspect there will be further such disputes in the future although industrial action will always be very much a last resort.

2012 will be a very difficult year as well. From April, the Government will double the length of time needed to claim unfair dismissal from 12 months to 2 years and is proposing changes to ACAS guidelines to “simplify” dismissal procedures. It is even contemplating introducing “no fault” sacking where you could be dismissed by your employer (with minimum compensation) without them even having to give you a reason. Also from April, if you have been unfairly treated or even discriminated against by your employer you may have to pay up to £1750 to go to a tribunal. I could go on and on about attacks over health and safety, redundancy consultations, TUPE etc.

Workers have to realise that they cannot depend on the “law” to protect them at work. The best defence is a strong union and collective action. So help yourself (and your union) by recruiting a work colleague, going to local union meetings and think about becoming a steward or a health & safety rep.

Finally many thanks to the activists, stewards, branch staff and of course our tireless UNISON full time Regional organiser Colin Inniss for all their hard work during the last 12 months".

John Gray, Branch Secretary

Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.” (Google it)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

UnisonActive take on defeat of London trots

Check out UnisonActive report : "UNISON London Region's existing leadership team, led by Convenor Gloria Hanson, saw off an attempt by the SWP and its sympathisers to take over at yesterday's Regional Council AGM. This is the seventh victory in a row for London grass root union activists who soundly defeated the challengers at the ballot box.

UNISON President Eleanor Smith was a keynote speaker together with Labour Party candidate for Mayor, Ken Livingstone. A motion attacking Boris and supporting Ken and Labour Assembly members in the election in May was passed unanimously. Motions calling for "Secure and Affordable Housing" and "Why income equality at work matters to everyone" were passed and prioritised as regional motions for National Delegate Conference.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Greater London UNISON Regional Council Officers 2012/2013

We were re-elected at the AGM today. Many thanks to all those who supported us :)

UNISON London Regional Council AGM

Today is the UNISON London Regional Council AGM. Where the forces of light and reason will once again face the evil ones. I've enjoyed recently the paranoid and distorted ramblings of their wannabe dear leader and his attempts to rewrite history.

His righteous posts remind me why London Unison members got fed up with the self indulgent pantomime student union politics of Regional Councils in the past and voted with their feet not to attend. Of the time that London Regional Council (yes, the most important region) was regarded with amusement by the rest of the union, an irrelevance by most employers and a private club run by Monty Python "Life of Brian" reenactment enthusiasts by many members.

So to stop going back to the bad old days and to continue to build the fastest growing region in the union may I respectfully request if you are a London delegate reading this on your smartphone to:-

Gloria Hanson – Regional Convenor
Conroy Lawrence – Deputy Regional Convenor
John Gray – Regional Finance Convenor
Monica Hirst – Regional Equalities Convenor
Lynn Bentley – Regional Publicity Officer

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

London Marathon 2012 Wk 15: Beckton Alps

Training run of the week was on Saturday just before the heavy snow. I had to keep running for 1 Hour 40 minutes. I decided to go south along the Greenway (Northern Sewer outlet) towards the Thames. I joined the Greenway near Newham General Hospital going past West Ham FC fans who were quite happy following their win in the local derby with Millwall FC. 

At the junction with the A13 the Greenway seemed to stop. I was not sure what to do so I decided to carry out a long time ambition and go to the top of Beckton Alps. I have driven past the "Alps" many times. Its actually the spoil heap from the Beckton Gas works which use to be on the site. It is supposed to be the highest point in Newham and the highest artificial hill in London.

The gas works themselves were used to film the final battle scenes of "Full Metal Jacket". Afterwards I ran home past St Marys Magdelene (the oldest Norman Church in London whose vicar is the Councillor Rev. Quintin Peppiatt!) then across Central Park and the back streets to home taking 1 Hour 41 minutes.

I am running the London marathon in April 2012 while sort of using the official advanced training programme and will be raising funds for Homeless charity for Young People "Alone in London". Click here to sponsor me.

"Closer to Home"

Check out this excellent article on housing posted here on "Labour List" by Newham born and bred Labour Party activists, Ellie Robinson and David Christie.

Today being the 200th anniversary of Dickens birth it is very apt to debate the appalling housing conditions that is still found even today in parts of the East End of London.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Getting a Grip about Industrial Action

“Those who argue that unions wanting to negotiate – the majority – have ‘sold out’ and undermined trade union solidarity need to get to grips with the complexities of public sector pensions, serious areas of weakness in membership density and organisation, sectoral bargaining arrangements in the public sector. Only when they have done that should they decide whether there is a route to getting everything we want through industrial action".

UNISON Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield responds to an analysis of the November 30 Public Sector Strike over pensions by academic Gregor Gall in Red Pepper.

I must admit that I get just a little frustrated when outsiders, no matter how knowledgeable, think that they know who and what "grass roots activists" are and think. Also, what is their relationship with the "National leadership". The "National leadership" in UNISON are democratically elected lay representatives who are not only "grass roots activists" but activists with a mandate.

They are responsible to their members not the grand designs of tiny ultra left fringe groups. Let me be very clear. By an overwhelming majority, the elected lay leadership of UNISON voted to continue negotiations over pensions.

There are some who appear to believe that public sector workers will "rally to the cause" and strike regardless of membership densities, steward structures and bargaining position. This is simply untrue. We are not stupid. We are not cannon fodder. It shows a complete and fundamental misunderstanding of British trade unionism.

I also think that further strike action at this time when our members and the public know that there is an improved offer on the table would prove disastrous. If negotiations collapse due to government intransigence then that would be very different.

What is the answer? I think instead of chasing strikes it is the long hard slog of organising workers. Not only recruiting vastly more members and stewards but also training and supporting them. If we had the numbers of members that trade unions in Scandinavia countries had then we would be in a totally different bargaining position. Ironically the Coalition Government attacks on employment rights and safety has provided us with a (unwanted) Recruiting Sergeant. Workers will know what activists have always known, that the best defence at work is joining an union, not relying on the Courts to protect you.

I think that this picture above of Kingston hospital UNISON members is a far more powerful image in this day and age than that of angry men standing around burning braziers. We have another job of work to do with the Great British court of public opinion. Despite the open goal of the worst recession in 80 years brought about by clear failures in capitalism, the "left" in all forms have failed to have any impact. But this belongs to another post.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Nightingales and Lancaster Bombers

I've just watched "Bomber Boys" on BBC 1 which you can watch here on BBC IPlayer. Featuring the actor Ewan McGregor and his brother Colin (who was a RAF fighter pilot during the first Iraq war). The programme was pretty moving and made a genuine attempt to explain the total war carnage in Coventry and Dresden as well as the great sacrifice of the RAF Bomber Command during World War Two.

When I was younger I was a member of the Air Training Corp in Holywell, North Wales. One of our ATC officers had been a Lancaster Bomber crew member and had been shot down over the North Sea during his first mission. He was rescued but spent the rest of the war in a German Prison camp. A few years ago there was a Newham Labour Party picnic on Wanstead Flats. One of the Party members who turned up had served in bomber command and had survived 30 Lancaster missions. I really don't know for certain but I think both of them would have thought that the mass bombing of Germany was right. 

This genuine video recording is from 1942. BBC sound engineers were recording the sound of Nightingales in the Countryside when hundreds of RAF Bombers flew overhead on route to attack Germany.

Listen and weep.

Hat tip Captain Swing.

UNISON Snow Patrol

I am just back from a terrific walk in snow bound Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park. The lakes are frozen and any slopes are full of families and children sledging. Stopped off for a traditional outdoor coffee and cake at Jean's Kiosk.

Luckily I did my long marathon training run yesterday when it was dry (but very cold). I'll post on that later. I'll upload some more pictures of the walk on FaceBook.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Newham Tells Ken

The picture College is from the "Tell Ken" event in Newham on Monday Evening (sponsored by London
UNISON Labour Link).

Labour Party candidate for London Mayor, Ken Livingstone has held "Tell Ken" events at all of the London 32 boroughs. His last one was in Newham on Monday which is of course a Labour stronghold.  I've posted on the
day events here.

This well attended "Tell Ken" event was chaired by City and East London Assembly member John Biggs. East Ham MP Stephen Timms introduced Ken.

Ken's speech was very, very good. The Q&A also went well. He judged the audience perfectly. I could see people nodding and agreeing with his points. His convincing narrative is that of an ordinary working class Londoner, who wants lower bus and tube fares, more housing, is tough on crime yet passionately believes in social justice and equality. Compare Ken and his love of London with the rich Old Etonian gadfly who regards being our  Mayor purely as a stepping stone to Number 10. It was a good night (pictures also from the Theatre Royal visit and of Ken with Becton Ward Councillors).