Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Hogmanay and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda 2014

Happy Hogmanay and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!!! This is my favourite picture of 2013. Beautiful Cadair Idris in the Snowdonian National Park, North Wales.  I am looking forward to more great walks in 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ed Miliband's New Year's Message 2014

    "It's the cost of living election stupid"

CBI says Bosses must pay workers more (is it their patriotic duty?)

No, this is not a New Year spoof but has the Spirit of Christmas finally got the better of the Scrooges union boss or is there a more practical reason for such a statement?  

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, said that businesses had to deliver "better pay and more opportunities" for their employees....still far too many people stuck in minimum wage jobs without routes to progression, and that's a serious challenge that businesses and the government must addressBBC report here

Is this anything to do with this   "2013 will be the fifth calendar year in a row when average earnings increase by less than prices.  This is unprecedented in at least the last seventy to eighty years, and possibly for much longer".  CIPD

Check out TUC "Britain Needs a Payrise" "Depressed wages equal depressed consumer demand, which leads to less investment and productivity falls - a spiral of economic decline. Lower wages also mean reduced tax receipts, leaving less revenue for vital services".

I am by coincidence writing up a draft pay claim for my employer 2014/2015 to union stewards for their agreement. Shall I also include this statement "it is clear from the comments of the CBI and the Chartered Institute of Personal & Development that it your patriotic duty to pay your workers more".

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Beautiful Wales" Gwaenysgor - Domesday Book to Tithe Wars

Sort of off message but I spent Christmas visiting family and stayed in the ancient North Wales village of Gwaenysgor on top of the steep hill over looking the coastal resort of Prestatyn.  The village is part of the Clwydian range area of outstanding natural beauty. The history of the village actually predates the Norman Domesday book of 1086 with evidence of Neolithic, Bronze and Iron age settlements as well as Romans and Anglo-Saxons.

I stayed in this converted 18th century cottage which the  owners believe was built for local stone quarriers.  There was a number of local history booklets inside and since I was stuck down for most of the week with man flu I was able to read up on the area and take occasional walks in the beautiful countryside and take in the fantastic views.

Yet life in the village in the past must have been very hard.The local village economy depended not only on subsistence farming but also lead and coal mining. Mains water from communal standpipes only arrived in 1932. The first street light was only in 1959 and mains sewage in 1967. Families suffered from Diphtheria, Smallpox and Scarlett fever epidemics.

There were no known Castles or battle sites but there was the "Tithe Wars" of the 19th century.  The mostly non conformist majority in the village resented having to pay a tithe to support the Anglican Church. In 1889 a bailiff sent to size assets for non-payment had to be rescued by Police from a local farm and was then stoned by angry villagers. There was also "School Board" wars in the village between the Anglican school and the non-conformists school. In 1906 tensions grew that the local rector was accused of physically attacking children going to the non-conformist school with his umbrella and acting like a "wild beast"!

My final bit of Labour movement history is about a famous son of Gwaenysgor - Welsh speaking
Labour MP Gordon MacDonald who was born in the village and later become a coal miner, union official, MP and eventually a Baron (and last Imperial Governor of Newfoundland). 

It was a very quiet and peaceful stay. I recommend the Eagle and Child Inn for great pub grub.

Hat tip "Explore Gwaenysgor" and "Walking with History" ISBN 0-9539881-0-4

John's Labour blog 2013 - The Google Movie

Unbeknown to me until today I had apparently "agreed" with Google + to this "movie" made up automatically in some way by them of pictures from my blog in 2013!  Still it has nice memories (some sad) and even a catchy tune (of sorts).Enjoy!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

3 Million People Struggle to Feed & Clothe their Children in UK: Official (& What to do about it)

This is the post I was going to publish on Boxing Day but thought that by doing so I would be a bit of a Christmas misery. Instead I posted this

In the run up to Christmas, the information and campaigning Group InequalityBriefing.org produced the above report on the 3 million people in this country who live in poverty (or "severe material deprivation" as defined by the ONS). This affects at least 5% of our population.

Next they published a briefing that showed the richest 1% in our society have got richer. In 1978 the top 1% got 6% of national income while in 2009 (latest figures - note under a Labour government) they got 14%!

Finally, on 20 December they published a report called "Can you live on a minimum wage?". They used figures from my Borough Newham (which is one of least expensive places to live in London) which shows if you survive on a minimum wage you would have £4 per week after paying for your essential living expenses. Of course people can't live on that and either work all the hours they can,  have 2 or 3 jobs, use food banks or depend on loan sharks (legal or otherwise).

I spent Christmas in North Wales and visited members of my family who do really difficult jobs and are bringing up kids on a minimum wage and insecure employment contracts. Life is really tough for them.

So what is the answer to widespread poverty and inequality in Britain?

The answer in my view (apology for rant) has got to include:- 
  • A Living Wage for all as the new minimum wage. A Living Wage that will (eventually) also pay a living pension, decent sickness benefits and employment rights.
  • Binding Wage councils between trade union and employers in sectors that can afford more than a living wage. 
  • Truly progressive taxation to make sure that those who can really afford it - pay their fair share.
  • Democratise shareholding to make sure that our Pension and insurance funds take their responsibility of ownership serious and stop us being ripped off by excessive executive remuneration.
  • Re-balance power in the workplace and enable trade unions to protect workers and win back a greater share of national income for wages.
  • Quality and well funded public services designed to prevent people falling into poverty in the first place and bringing them out if they do.
  • Better regulation and intervention by local and national government to fix broken markets and protect consumers.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of each particular policy above, unless there is change then I am convinced that the long term future of this country as a free (but imperfect) stable Parliamentary democracy subject to the rule of law is at risk.

If the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer then you don't have to have a degree in history to know what will eventually happen. The Labour Party needs to resume its historic mission to act and save capitalism from itself.

Friday, December 27, 2013

"Factional Magical-Leninism The Festive Quiz"

What a fantastic new site and brilliant post.  Check out the Quiz and many thanks for the Great Crimbo pressie "you know who".

Update: I will try and answer the Quiz on this page (responses in red). May take some time. 

"After six months of news, blog rants, screen-play scripts, musicals, leaked  emails, leaked Socialist Worker articles, leaked letters, leaked Party Notes, fairy stories,  angry polemics, thought provoking articles and journeys into trade union history, its time to end 2013 with our Traditional Festive Quiz.
Prizes, in the form of gift-links, will be awarded to those who answer correctly in the comments section or the facebook “discussion”. Answers will be revealed on this blog in the New Year. (Some people may not be happy with the answers. I don’t know everything for sure & apparently the internet sometimes contains errors)
  1.  Which group had a faction fight at conference over whether all married members should be compelled to divorce, as marriage institutionalises women’s’ oppression?  No idea but possibly LaRouche stupidness?
  2.   Which group has a member who wrote a book subtitled “Quantulumcunque Concerning Materialist Esthetix” ? And what the hell does that mean?  I think he was SWP? but no idea what was about?
  3.  Which group once said that it would ideally call for the banning of alcohol “but the workers wouldn’t understand it”?  It was banned during early Soviet Union and there was some UK Communist Party support for abolition?
  4.  Which group once handed out leaflets to Vietnam War Protesters explaining “Why We Are Not Marching”? No idea. Lots of usual suspects from sects wanting to seem "different".
  5. A third of the 15 strong leadership of which Leninist Party were formerly students at Sussex University? I thought all Leninist UK based Parties leadership were former Sussex Uni Students?
  6. Whose stall did Simon Watney and Edward King of the lesbian & gay rights group Outrage kick over at Gay Pride in 1990? And why? Revolutionary Communist Party because it did not think that AIDS was spread by gay sex.
  7.  What was the key point about the end of World War Two according to followers of one faction of the Fourth International? Lots and lots of so called "key points" surely?
  8. Which Fourth International Leader became a minister in the Algerian government after the revolution in 1961, and who’s funeral in his native Greece was a state event?  Michel Pablo
  9.  How many monopolies did Militant want to nationalise in 1965 (400) , 1970 (350), 1980 (250) and 1990 (200)
  10.  Which Leninist organisation explained the need for separate women’s organisation within Leninist Parties in order to combat sexism within the revolutionary movement in 1978? Don't know and pity that this was not taken up by the others.
  11. Which Socialist Party threatened to take the Socialist Party (formerly Militant) to court, and why? I think the SPGB over SPEW using the "Socialist Party" election label which is registered to them.
  12.  Which organisation fought hard in the 1980s to stop women, black, LGBT members of the Labour Party organising autonomously against sexism, racism & homophobia, claiming such organisation divided the workers Movement? I think Militant for sure and all the ultra left LP sects?
  13.  Which organisation once wrote We must call upon beings from other planets when they come to intervene, to collaborate with the inhabitants of the Earth to overcome misery. We must launch a call on them to use their resources to help us.” believing that socialism could arrive from another planet, and that a nuclear war might be an advantage for revolutionary Marxists?   (“Humanity will pass quickly through a nuclear war into a new human society – Socialism.”) Posadists - Revolutionary Workers' Party (Trotskyist)
  14.  Which organisation discovered that their leader had become senile and their main theoretician schizophrenic, before they were both removed? Surely it should be which such organisation hasn't had this happen? (and most are still waiting to do something about it)
  15. Which group lost a libel action brought by ITN and lost around £1 million, bankrupted their magazine? Living Marxism RCP
  16.  Fidel Castro was “First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba” for nearly 40 years. In July 2014 a British Trotskyist leader will, health permitting, break that record as the worlds longest standing Leninist Party General Secretary. What is his name and organisation? I once went to a meeting of a UK Trade Council whose listed Executive officers were mostly dead? Is this something similar?
  17. Which group stood against Labour in elections and got results ranging from 111 (0.24%) and 644 (2.1%)? Cricky - a lot of choice here, especially for the 0.24%ers. What about TUSO which was also beaten a number of times by the "Elvis Loves Pets" Party?
  18. What was the Marxist Daily Building Fund and what happened to all the money it raised? was this spent by WRP on Trotsky's death mask
  19. What is “The Hallas Foundation”? Don't know but it is registered with Company House as "private limited guaranteed without share capital"
  20. Why did the International Marxist Group not join the “Anti Internment League”, despite the AIL’s organisation of Britain’s biggest ever Irish Solidarity march in 1972? And what slogan about the war in the six counties were their members supposed to chant on marches in Britain? No idea but no doubt something weird.
  21. Which group banned its members from talking to each other across branches and international groups via the internet in the 1990s? The SWP for sure but pretty much all the sects took fright at the internet and still do.
  22. Name 57 left wing groups in Britain. (The group does not have to be alive any more. If a name has been used twice, it counts twice) Heniz 57  Workers International League; Revolutionary Communist Party; Revolutionary Communist Party; Revolutionary Socialist League; Labour Party, Respect, Socialist Alliance, Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party (England & Wales), Socialist Party GB, Communist Party GB, Communist Party Britain, Communist Party GB ML, Socialist Appeal, Left Unity, Trade Union and Socialist Organisation, Workers Revolution Party, Committee Workers International, Independent Labour Party, Real Labour, Socialist Labour, Revolutionary Workers' Party (Trotskyist), Internal Marxist Group, Red Action... (got bored)
True or False?
  1. In 2013, a member of the Central Committee of the SWP  hacked into other CC members computers and began  leaking stories to the Facing Reality blog TRUE
  2. In the late 1970s, it was possible to go on a left wing march against the cuts or racism and be offered two papers, “Gay Left” and “Straight Left” Don't know
  3. In a report by a police informant, Militant was described as “The most unbelievably boring and turgid newspaper I have ever read, never mind sold” TRUE (so true)
  4. A police raid on the Workers Revolutionary Party Derbyshire training centre found only used bullets, so no action was taken. TRUE
  5. The IS/SWP once had an opposition faction that called itself “The Right Opposition” Don't know
  6. In 1980s Liverpool, GMB stewards using taxis to deliver redundancy notices to the entire council workforce, were picketed by NALGO stewards and taken to court by the local NUT TRUE
  7. The SWP has over 7,000 members FALSE (less)
  8. The leader of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) produces such brilliant poetry that it is published on the groups website and sometimes even in print FALSE (it is mostly awful)
  9.  Everybody’s favourite Left-Trainspotter paper/website, the “Weekly Worker” used to be called the “Daily Worker” Don't know. CPGB use to publish Daily Worker (now Morning Star)
  10.  In the 1980s it was possible to go on a march and be offered to buy two copies of “Newsline” produced by rival factions of the WRP. TRUE
  11. In the 1980s, tit-for-tat killings became the norm between the 3 main revolutionary socialist groups, which saw nearly 100 dead. TRUE (Northern Ireland)
  12.  In the 1980s it was possible to go on a march and be offered two copies of “Brighton Labour Briefing” produced by rival factions of the Brighton’s Labour Left. Probably true
  13.  There are three daily papers run by left wing parties in Britain. FALSE Update: only two daily.
  14. A Trotskyist paper called “Workers Hamster” greeted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with the headline “Hail The Red Army in Afghanistan” Maybe - Not sure about Workers Hamster but Red Army quote was Spartacist League headline.
  15.  At Labour Party Young Socialists summer camp in the 1980s, supporters of the Militant Tendency organised an attack on the tents of the openly LGBT campers. TRUE
  16.  The CPB (M-L) ( founder John Buckle), with less than 100 members, currently organise rallies where they tell their membership how they “punch above our weight” TRUE (but don't they all claim this?)
  17. The SWP in 1960s USA expelled lesbian and gay members because they were a security risk. Don't know.
  18.  Occupy Marxism Festival was bigger than the real Marxism Festival in 2013 TRUE-ish
  19. Joan Lester, a former Labour Minister who became Baroness Lester of Eccles Cakes in 1997, was once a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. TRUE
  20. The Japanese section of the Fourth International expelled all its male members due to the high level of physical abuse of women members by male “comrades” Don't know
  21. John Lennon wanted to join the International Socialists (SWP), but didn’t like the thought of the subs he was ask for, so he joined the Fourth International International Marxist Group” instead. Don't know
  22. Surrey was the origin of two British left groups, the New Communist Party (AKA North Korea Juche International, UK section) and Spanner (a 1980s breakaway from the SPGB (AKA Small Party of Good Boys) Don't know
Which is the odd one out? And why?
1) Workers Power, 2) Socialist Resistance, 3) Anti-Capitalist Initiative, 4) Counterfire, 5) International Socialist Network, 6) Revolutionary Democratic Group, 7) Alliance for Workers Liberty, 8) Permanent Revolution, 9) Revolutionary Communist Party, 10) International Socialist Group, 11) Revolutionary Communist Group, 12) Red Action RED ACTION only ones to have ever actually done anything?
1) British National Party, 2) The SWP, 3) UKIP, 4) Liberal-Democrats SWP never stood for elections in own name?
1) Ted Grant, 2) Tony Cliff, 3) Gerry Healy, 4) Sean Matgamna Sean M Only one still alive?
1) Globalise Resistance  2)Right to Work Campaign  3) Youth Fight for Jobs 4) Education Activists Network 5) Fast Food Rights FFR only ones as well to have actually done anything?
1) Costas  2) Starbucks  3) Firebox  4) Café Nero  5) Coffee Republic Firefox pay taxes?
1)The SWP telling people to pay their poll tax, 2) Militant  refusing to call for the withdrawal of Thatchers Falklands Task Force, 3) The SWP saying collect money for the miners & take it to the picket lines instead of working with the Miners Support Groups and collecting food, 4) The Militant calling 1980s Syria a Workers State (deformed),5)  Militant staying in The Mass party Of The Werking Class (AKA The Labour Party) quite as long as they did. 6) The procedures of the SWP Disputes Committee in 2012 7) The SWP standing Lindsey German for London Mayor under a “Left List” platform after getting “witch-hunted” out of “Respect” In 2008 German was still in SWP?

Christmas Day in the Forest Gate Workhouse 1896

Check out this fascinating post at E7 Now & Then which is a history site for Forest Gate (E7 is the local post code), Newham in East London where I have lived for the past 24 years.

It has reprinted articles from a local paper on life in the Forest Gate workhouse for children (or "industrial school") during Christmas 1896.

The report does appears to me to be more Disney's "Mary Poppins" rather than Dickens "Oliver Twist".  I cannot believe that 500 children, aged from 4-14 were at all "happy" to be split from their parents? No doubt better than staving or freezing to death in the slums but not as suggested by the reporter the result of some lifestyle choice by feckless parents.

A few years previous 26 children had burnt to death at the Workhouse during a fire amidst allegations that they had been locked in their dormitories and unable to escape. 

Right wing Tories are currently hinting that there needs to be even further savage cuts in welfare spending. It is bad enough already but if this happens many parents will not be able to feed and cloth their kids.  I think that it is a fair question to ask if we will see the rise again of such institutions?

I posted on the Workhouse and its subsequent history as a maternity hospital here in 2011.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What to do when you retire?

I was going to make a serious Boxing Day post on poverty and low pay but thought I would be a bit of a Christmas misery.  So I have posted this instead.

It made me smile anyway :) 

Hat tip Denbigh, North Wales on Facebook

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Communist Christmas!

This is my traditional Crimbo Video. Communism, Christianity and Democratic Socialist values have much in common in theory but not alas so far in practise.

Until then enjoy!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you!

Hat tip Stroppybird!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Christmas the future looks bleak for your firefighters

Support your firefighters who are on strike and working to rule this Christmas to save their pensions.

Tackling workplace stress - a one-day course for UNISON Housing Association members and activists

Date: Wednesday 15 January, 9.30-3.30
Venue: Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA

"Did you know that 35% of fit notes are written for mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression? With workplace stress a major concern for many UNISON members, the Housing Associations Branch are running a one-day course in how to deal with workplace stress - including how to cope with the stress that being a steward can create.

We will discuss stress and how it affects your working life, what employers can do to minimise stress in the workplace, and Elizabeth Cotton from Middlesex University will give a workshop on how trade unionists can develop their own strategies for dealing with the stress that being a steward can bring. You can have a look at Elizabeth’s Surviving Work online library here: www.survivingwork.org

Also "organising around stress at work" by Tony Power, Branch Chair and "Members with mental health issues" led by Jim Lewis from National UNISON.   Lunch and other refreshments will be provided. As this is a training day, stewards and health and safety reps may be entitled to paid time off to attend – contact the branch office if you have any difficulty getting permission for this.

Contact infoATunisonhablondonDOTorg on or before the 8th January to register - all branch activists and those interested in becoming more involved in their trade union are welcome. Please also feel free to circulate to members in your workplace".

Socialism is Beer at 20p per litre: Christmas Eve Sectarian

"YOUR editorial Schism in North Korea (M Star December 16) was without a doubt one of the worst articles ever to appear in the Morning Star.

The Star has truly crossed the Rubicon. It has degenerated from being a revisionist newspaper into being openly pro-imperialist, anti-communist and social democratic.

The editorial rehashed the lies of the capitalist press with a few cheap throwaway jibes aimed at currying favour with Trotskyites.

The article reads like a mixture of the Sun newspaper and the Socialist Worker.

The defeat of the counter-revolutionary faction in the DPRK should be a matter for congratulation.
The swift, decisive and resolute action taken by Marshal Kim Jong Un has dealt a blow to the imperialists — as shown by the reactionary Lord Alton’s comments that Jang Song Thaek was “a real hope for reform” in the DPRK.

The class enemy is angry about the elimination of its agent in the DPRK but why should the Star, a “socialist daily newspaper,” join hands with them in attacking the DPRK?

Had the Soviet Union taken similar decisive measures against Gorbachov and Yeltsin socialism would still exist in the USSR today — this is a fact.

All the old lies of the capitalist media about the DPRK are spewed up by the Morning Star.

Rather than living standards declining in the DPRK they are improving as a large number of leisure and cultural facilities have been built in the past 18 months.

Education and health care are free in the DPRK, housing is virtually free and people do not pay tax.
The Pyongyang Metro is the cheapest in the world at only 2.5p per journey and a litre of beer costs just 20p.

What is this if not socialism?

There is no schism in the DPRK – a handful of counter-revolutionary factionalists do not represent anyone.

The people are solidly united around the party and the leader.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Them and Us: So why don't UK workers trust senior management?

The CIPD (professional body for HR) reports today that the lack of trust between employees and senior management is holding back sustainable economic recovery.

They conclude not unreasonably that employees who don't trust their senior managers are likely to be less productive and and less engaged.

Only 37% of employees trust them apparently which is an appalling figure.

The CIPD think that this is a problem that has been getting worse and may be linked to "hard" decisions due to the recession. I think it is much more basic than this. Some thoughts on why and what to do about it...

Number one is the huge and growing difference in pay between the top and the bottom. How can employees respect senior managers if they are content to fill their own pockets with gold while the people who clean their toilets live in poverty?

Even so called blue chip companies pay their workers so little that the tax payer has to subsidise their pay. 

Not only pay but  why do so executives in top companies often get decent pension contributions when their workers get rubbish?

Why if you need a company car to carry out your business do executives get luxury status cars while ordinary workers get basic models?  Surely everyone just needs a safe, comfortable and reliable car?

Why do some companies pay statutory only compensation to employees they make redundant but make huge payouts for executives they "let go"? 

Finally, a pet hate is the the "happy clappy" company culture guff.  Where everything is so, so wonderful.  Where staff are expected to volunteer to be "change champions" even if it means that their jobs and conditions are under risk by this change. This sort of things is bonkers. Demeaning "Ab Fab" superficiality. People can see through this nonsense.

The solution to this? How about a living wage plus for all; wage councils for sectors that can afford more than a living wage plus; modern rights and freedoms for trade unions; employee representation on boards and remuneration committees; truly progressive taxation of the higher paid, statutory pay ratios of low to highest paid....? Anyone else any other ideas?

Interestingly that only is such inequality bad for society (see "The Spirit Level" et al) but it is is making our economy uncompetitive and inefficient. Perhaps this imperative will mean that things might finally change?

West Ham Women Forum: Education Debate 16 Jan Stratford Town Hall

"On Thursday 16th Jan at 7pm, West Ham CLP Women’s Forum, are hosting an education debate.
Our confirmed speakers on the panel are:
  • Lord Andrew Adonis the driver of the Academy programme in the UK.
  • Sharon Hodgson MP who is the Shadow Minster for Women and Equalities and former Shadow Minster for Children and Families
  • Professor Becky Francis from King’s College University who is best known for work on gender and achievement.
  • Diane Walls who has taught in the East End of London for over 40 years, a school governor at Chobham Academy and was a Newham Councillor for 18 years.
During the debate we will address questions on what is Labour’s 13 year legacy on education policy, standards and achievement, methods to improve standards of schools in Newham and the UK and what Labour’s policy on education should be.

There of course will be plenty of opportunities for you as the audience to ask questions and share your thoughts.

This is an open event so please feel free to invite family, friends, teachers and governors to what will be very interesting education debate!

Here is the Facebook link for members who are social media savvy: https://www.facebook.com/events/164686817075417/

Seyi Akiwowo
West Ham Women’s Officer

(hat tip West Ham Labour Party blog)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Breaking the LGPS out of its pre-Maxwell time warp"

Check out UNISON Dave Watson post "I was speaking in a panel debate on governance at a well-attended Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) conference in Edinburgh today.

The LGPS is facing some major changes to governance structures and pension funds are focused on what this means for the existing funds. The essence of my argument was that the LGPS is stuck in a pre-Maxwell time warp.

For those not familiar with the history of pensions governance, Robert Maxwell committed a massive fraud by plundering his employees' pension funds in order to shore up his companies. As a result, pensions law changed to include better member representation on pension funds and a legal separation from the employer.

This has been followed through in European law through the provisions of the IORP Directive. The LGPS is probably the last pension fund to operate with limited member representation and there is no separation from the administering authority.

The pensions committee of Scotland's eleven funds are simply council sub-committees with councillors making the decisions. UNISON believes the current structures are unlawful, but they have to change anyway to comply with the UK Public Service Pensions Act.

A consultation paper that sets out the issues will be published this week. Even more challenging for the current funds is the concept of scheme merger or at least shared services. UNISON has commissioned expert evidence that leads us to believe that larger funds perform better and reduce investment costs.

Paying £millions to the same 'masters of the universe' who created the financial crash, is a particular concern to our members who are suffering the consequences with pay and job cuts.

Interestingly, another presentation at the conference came to a similar conclusion on external fund management costs. In the current financial environment, paying too much to fund managers means even bigger cuts in services.

The same applies to poor investment performance. In addition, we could use the £24bn of assets in the Scottish funds for useful local investment, rather than investing almost half of it abroad.

Strengthening LGPS scheme governance is long overdue and members have a right to have a meaningful say in the decision making process".

Phil Wilson MP at West Ham GC on the Trade Union link

The guest speaker at last months West Ham Labour Party General Committee was Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield.

I was late due and missed the main part of his speech supporting the proposed reforms of the trade union link. He finished by stressing he wants not to break but to "mend the link".There was then a lively Q&A.

Daniel Blaney, an Unite delegate thought that the arguments for reform are inconsistent. What happened to "Refounding Labour" and why was this proposal not discussed then?

My question was that if the Party followed the UNISON model only about 1/3 members pay the Labour Party political levy and if the other unions reduced their affiliations by 2/3rd we are going to be broke.   The Tories are going to outspend us as usual and we will need every penny we can get to defeat them in 2015.

Phil said that this will take at least 5 years to implement and and that there will be no reduction in levy income until after 2015 General election.

I also said that a pilot London wide primary to pick the next Labour candidate for London Mayor is too risky and there is a real danger that we would have a candidate selected by the Evening Standard. We should experiment first with a CLP. One member suggested to widespread merriment that we should instead experiment with the a primary for the Newham Mayoral election next year!

Unite delegate Terry "Red" Paul spoke strongly in favour of keeping the union link. 

Phil reminded us saying Labour is a movement not a monument. Things have changed. When he grew up there was 100k coal miners and people automatically voted Labour.

Gill Hay, an UNISON member supported the reform because she thought it will encourage trade union members to consciously and positively join the Party. Alan Griffiths, also from UNISON thinks unions are already incredibly weak and can do more.

Phil finished by stressing, once again, that to him this is all about strengthen the union link with the Party.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

This is the first ever year that I have sent no Christmas Cards to anyone. I will be making a donation to lieu to Shelter, Hope not Hate and the Royal Airforce Association.  

Hope you all have a lovely holiday. 

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) so cheer up since it will now get lighter by about 4 minutes every day!

I am now drinking a nightcap and listening to Radio 2 "Sounds of the 80s".

What could be more perfect?

(Hat tip Wanstead Flats Feb 2012).

Friday, December 20, 2013

During Christmas dinner, Nigel said a firm "No!" to brussels.

Brilliant. We need more of this stuff to help expose this Tory Front of hate Johnny Foreigners (but happy to employ and exploit them on their farms and factories) Multimillionaire speculators and tax evaders.

Farage is not the sort of bloke you really want to have a beer with because he actually wants to get rid of any employment protection you have at work and then reduce your wages here to those you would find in China.

That's after all, how he made his money.

Normfest memorial

This is a little late but after this event last month I "Ken Biked" to a "real-world celebration of Norm and his blogging".

Norman Geras, Marxist professor, Cricket fan, supporter of the invasion in Iraq and author of "Normblog" died of cancer last month aged 70.

This event was organised by fellow Euston Manifesto-ite Paul Evans at the Yorkshire Grey Pub in central London.

I was late but the event was still busy and it was striking to see so many people with a wide range of views gathering in appreciation of one incredibly honest, lucid and intelligent blogger.

Check out the tributes at Normfest.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Bridge Over You - Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir

Following an email from Heidi Alexander MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Lewisham East, I went to the website NHS Choir, listened to the music on Youtube then downloaded the track here. An astonishingly good production. Recommended.

Former soldier warns against supporting Far Right Fascist "Britain First"

Labour Ipswich Councillor, Alasdair Ross, who spent over 24 years in the Royal Green Jackets, serving his country in Northern Ireland, Bosnia,  Kosovo and finally in with The Rifles in Sangin, Afghanistan warns us here about the nasty fascist so called "Britain First" front. Who are tricking the public to support them and using photographs of dead British servicemen funerals to raise funds.

I agree with Alasdair that these people are just fascists who shame our country and our war dead. Both my grandfathers fought in the Second World War. We lost hundreds of thousands of British military and civilians in combat and in the Blitz while fighting against the Nazi and their ilk.

"Britain First" is one of the many splits that have resulted from the welcome demise of the racist BNP. They are an extremist "hate group"- nothing more and nothing less.

(picture of German Bomber flying over the Isle of Dogs)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

AMNT Meets Shadow Pension Minister Gregg McClymont MP at House of Commons

On 27 November we had a special Open meeting for AMNT members at the House of Commons. 

Beforehand there had been a brief tour of Westminster Hall.  Then  40 of us were in a Committee room to hear Gregg McClymont MP talk about the UK pension landscape and then take part in a Q&A.   

He reaffirmed Labour Party policy that they will be looking to introduce in any future Labour Government beneficiary governance for all pension funds including contract schemes. This is not a panacea for all wrongs but to ensure value for money.

He also wants a Fiduciary duty for everyone in the investment chain.

Next was presentation by David Heslop from the Pension Protection Fund who painted a positive picture of the PPF and they believe that if things go to plan they will not have to levy pensions by 2030.  

 Our AMNT  joint Chair’s Barry Parr and Janice Turner also gave an update on our recent activities and plans for the future.

Afterwards as a contrast, we went to the offices of fund managers Evercore Pan-Asset at Queen Anne’s Gate and had a presentation by the chair of their investment Committee RH John Redwood MP on the state of the global economy and what this means for pension funds. This was followed by a drinks and nibbles reception.

The FRC...and how too much voting is a bad thing

(Great article by AMNT Co-Chair Janice Turner in Professional Pensions)  "It was disappointing to hear a Financial Reporting Council representative tell the NAPF stewardship conference that that it's unlikely  they will support calls for pension schemes to direct their votes in pooled funds.

This would seem to put the FRC on collision course with the whole thrust of government and opposition policy on the need for institutional investors to have better engagement with the companies they own.

Pooled funds are often considered the best option for smaller pension schemes. Is the FRC saying that casting votes at corporate AGMs should be reserved for the biggest schemes and fund managers? This sounds spookily similar to the late 18th century English electoral system – voting was the preserve of the rich and powerful, and far too good for the oiks. What constitutes engagement in the 21st century?

The FRC spokesperson seemed to think that allowing too much voting is a bad thing: Professional Pensions quoted her as saying: "If we go increasingly along the ‘voting is the answer' mechanism, and that's how companies found out that's what the view is of them, then I am nervous of the proliferation of votes that we're going to have and how meaningful that will be."

Poor things, how could they possibly cope? The FRC would appear to prefer us all to go and have meetings with the chief executive to discuss performance.

Shall we all now wake up? Pension funds invest in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of companies not just in the UK but round the world and it is ridiculous to suggest that individual company by company engagement is likely for any but the biggest pension funds and investment companies, and even then it is highly unlikely that every fund or investment vehicle has such direct engagement with every company in which they invest.

We are no longer living in a world where you can promenade down the road in your carriage and pair and have lunch with the chairman of the board. Well, not most of us anyway. It is time the investment world got real and started looking at what companies should expect in return for investment.

If companies want to gain investment from institutional investors anywhere in the world, then it's time they and the FRC accepted that they will have to be held to account in a manner appropriate for their worldwide ownership, and that means voting.

Currently it would seem that we have 21st century ownership with 19th century accountability. The alternative is the "nanny knows best" approach – to leave all these decisions to city fund managers.

After all, the FRC representative at the NAPF said: "When there is a voting mechanism it can drive behaviours that may be contrary to the longer term good". Far better to do away with all that unpleasant democracy and leave it to those who know best.

 So Alan Macdougall, managing director of Pensions Investment Research Consultants, has the full support of the Association of Member Nominated Trustees when he calls for institutional investors to have the right to direct how their votes are cast in pooled funds.

The FRC has been looking into this issue for three and a half years and, as he said at the NAPF, they have failed to amend the stewardship code on four different occasions. Allowing institutional investors to vote on pooled funds is not difficult. Legal & General allow this and don't charge for doing it either. All that is required is for the FRC to act in the public interest and make that decision.

Of course, making this change will greatly increase the potential for accountability and engagement but AMNT believes still more needs to be done. We are looking closely at this area and no doubt we will have a lot more to say next year.

(my choice of picture William Hogarth  An Election Entertainment, The Humours of an Election series, 1755)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"To my comrades, of any party or none"

"On Sunday evening, after conference had ended, I resigned from the SWP. I will explain why I have left, but before I do that, I first want to explain why for so many years I stayed with the party even while I often criticised it...."

Check out here what seems to be an honest and raw account of why one long standing member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has just decided to resign over the way rape allegations against a former senior member of its Central Committee have been handled. 

Picture of students outside ULU in London last weekend for NUS demo "Fed up of the "SWP SH*T". Hat tip Bristol NUS.

Newham Compass: "How could the House of Commons work better?"

(Guest post by Sue Masters on last weeks debate) "If the House Of Commons is a megaphone to broadcast the opinions of those who don’t have a voice – one brilliant metaphor to spring out of our night’s debate – it’s an instrument whose booming tones too often can falter – drowned out by the herd, detuned by the strains of adversarial politics and muffled by party whips.

These were just a number of the problems expounded on by tonight’s speakers at Newham Compass’ debate.

Chaired by South East MEP candidate and local councillor, Farah Nazeer, The night’s conversation ranged widely and soon revealed there was no shortage of areas ripe for improvement.

The Electoral Society’s CEO, Katie Ghose kicked off proceedings with the radical notion that to truly alter perceptions of the House Of Commons you’d need to tear it down and rebuild from scratch, as the institution’s problems are embedded in its very architecture.

She also talked about the need to reconnect politics with the people, reform the Lords and truly think about what it is we want from our MPS – whether they’re there to represent us, scrutinise the executive, develop legislation or handle local casework. For her, though, there were glimmers of hope in terms of the increased impact of select committees, improvement in terms of their selection and emergency questions as a means to bring a wider array of voices to bear on proceedings.

If Katie took the strategic approach to the night’s question, it was left to Lisa Nandy (as MP for Wigan, a resident of the house in question) to give us the bird’s eye view of the day-to-day challenges facing her in the Commons – issues that were seldom black and white.

If she agreed with the needs for Lords reform she equally conceded the high quality of debate provided by that institution and felt the frustratingly adversarial nature of sessions such as Prime Minister’s questions, were counterbalanced by opportunities to work together, cross-bench, on legislation to ensure all angles and opinions were considered.

We heard about the limitations of MPs’ resources when squaring up to private sector lobbyists and when juggling many different areas of legislation across their working days. And then there was the strain push-button protest platforms such as Avaaz and 38 degrees have put on a member’s working day. While we’d all agree the preservation of our forests is a worthy (and seemingly uncontentious issue) how quickly would we hit that “send” button to register our support if we knew a vote, taking less than a minutes on our part could force an MP to spend hours dealing with correspondence, leading them away from assisting elderly constituents unable to afford heating bills?

If the issues raised by our two brilliant speakers covered a wide range of areas, this was more than matched by the ensuing Q&A, in which an audience of local councillors, candidates and residents raised their own concerns.

Perhaps the real issue of the night, however, was how such questions would ever receive proper airtime in the very house under consideration - though it was felt that questions about self-governance raised by the Scottish question and the prospect of a new government in 2015 offered a few rays of hope".

Feeling the Pressure?

"People are feeling the pressure over pay. Pay is frozen while prices soar. UNISON is working for better and fairer pay: http://www.unison.org.uk/worth-it"

Join UNISON today: http://joinunison.org

"Narrator: Feeling the pressure?

Quote 1: "Everyone you speak to these days seems to be struggling to make ends meet no matter what job they do. I'm finding it hard to pay my bills and I don't understand why things that aren't luxuries are getting more and more expensive."

Quote 2: "I can't believe that people in my team are having to rely on food banks. How is that right?

Quote 3: "We were promised that if we did our bit things would get better. I don't believe that anymore. I've avoided borrowing money so far but I think it's only a matter of time before I'm ringing the payday loan people."

Quote 4: "I always thought I was fairly well off – but now I’m having to choose between paying the bills or buying clothes for the kids. And I don't buy luxuries anymore."

Narrator: How much tighter can your belt get?

Closing screen: UNISON – because pay matters

Monday, December 16, 2013

UNISON Community Conference 2014: Final Call for delegates Friday 20th December 5pm

"Dear colleagues, all Community branches can send delegates to UNISON’s Community Service Group Conference (in Brighton, 28 February – 2 March 2014).  The deadline is this Friday 20 December.

All UNISON members have the right to participate in our democratic structures and to help determine the policy of the union as it affects them.  

Community Conference is a key event for UNISON members in charities, housing associations and campaigning organisations, and as a relatively new service group, it also plays a vital role in bringing together our activists who often feel isolated.

Please urgently register delegates from your branch.

·         Submitting delegates: 20 December 2013 at 17:00
·         Changing delegates: 24 February 2014 at 17:00

Once delegates are selected, they need to be registered with the UNISON conference office using the online conference system (OCS).  Further details on the conference are available on www.unison.org.uk/about/events-and-conferences/national-conferences/community-conference-2014.

(email from Simon at National office. Picture of UNISON Housing Association branch having a delegation meeting and bite to eat on beach in Brighton during Community Conference 2012)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gregg McClymont MP Shadow Pension Minister: TUC Pension Trustee Network Conference 2013

 The last session of the TUC Pension Trustee network was chaired by Kay Carberry, the Assistant General Secretary of the TUC. First speaker on "Where next for UK Pensions?" was Gregg McClymont MP and Labour Shadow Pension minister.

Gregg thought that a key problem with auto-enrolment was that the employer in the main will select the workplace pension for employees. Therefore we need to make sure that there is competition and value for money. It is an "odd" market which is not transparent.

The Office Fair Trading (OFT) recently sampled the pension market and found insufficient competition. Transaction costs are not fully disclosed. If you don't know what a product will cost how can you buy it? There are incentives for fund managers to churn. In pensions size and scale matters.

In Australia where there are already only large funds the regulator has been given powers to force the merger of schemes if it makes sense. Also each year trustees are obliged to formally consider whether or not it is in the interests of beneficiaries to merge. There needs to be independent trustee governance for funds.

This doesn't mean 200k small pension trustee boards. The 4 biggest providers make up 16% of schemes. OFT did identify some weakness in Trustee governance. It is not a panacea but the best option. You need tension to deliver share owner value and we should extend the fiduciary duty up the chain to everyone who handles trustees money.

Next was Sarah Smart from "Smart Cats Consulting" and currently the Chair of the Pension Trust and on the Lothian Pension fund (LGPS). Sarah predicted that in the next 15 years NEST will have 8-10 million members. You need to have scale in pensions. Big is not necessary better but with big you can buy better governance. 

With big you can also share mortality risk with other members. Invest in growth assets rather than in annuities where you have to invest in gilts. For any new kind of Defined Ambition or Collective DC pension scheme employers have got to be reassured that they will not be liable with a scheme that is suddenly deemed to be DB?

She thinks that modern day politics means it is too short term for pensions. Instead we should have an independent pensions commission that decides things.

 Last speaker was independent trustee Fiona Draper. She stressed the importance of good administration in a pension scheme. Even if you have a global firm in charge there is no guarantee in her experience that they can work things out right. The role of professional trustees is important but they should not replace member nominated trustees.

She mused why the Australians can have proper compulsion in pensions but we can't? Why?

Finally, she teaches on a UK international course on pensions designed for the developing world. When this course started no doubt the UK Defined Benefit Pension scheme and state pension was held up to be the best that the rest of world should aspire towards. Nowadays she finds that often her students are unimpressed with the UK model and say that their own countries pension provision is better.

After the close of conference there was the famous TUC Pension network reception which this year I had to leave early to rush off to my trade union branch meeting.