Friday, February 28, 2014

UNISON Community Seminar and Conference 2014

This afternoon was the start of the UNISON Community (Housing Associations and Voluntary sector) Annual Seminar and Conference 2014.

Our key note speaker was Karen Jennings, the Assistant General Secretary who spoke about UNISON's strategy for the future - recruitment,organising and campaigning. We have over 60k members in our Community service group, which she pointed out was more than many national professional organisations.

Karen explained about the UNISON "Worth it" Campaign". When we talk to members and potential members we have to use their language not that of activists.  We need to increase our members self belief and self esteem.

"Worth it" reveals how people across UK are struggling: how to make the case against austerity and how many of our members are the working poor who simple cannot pay their bills.  At the moment we are mobilising to support the TUC Fair Pay Fortnight. 22 March to 6 April.

UNISON has also in the last year started a huge advertising campaign with adverts in national newspapers, TV and radio. It has shown to be particularly effective during children programmes. Parents join UNISON on the phone while their children watch cartoons.

A major campaign is asking why tax payers pick up the bill for poverty pay? People are paid so low by huge corporate companies and tax payers pick up the wage. Karen called for a living wage and better procurement. 

Finally Karen reminded everyone that the cuts had not fully happened yet. 400k jobs have gone in public service but there are 750k to come.  Labour only has a slim lead in the polls so any one who wants Labour to win cannot be complaisant. UNISON is targeting106 marginal seats with Tory majorities less than unison membership in the area.

UNISON was unhappy about many things last the last Labour government did but we need a message of hope. We recognise the very important statements from Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband to abolish the bedroom tax, the Health & Social Care Act, unfair zero hour contracts and support a living wage.  We need more detail.

But just think about the future if Labour fails and think about the Tories and their record and its impact - pay freeze, pay cuts, families struggling, cuts in the NHS.

UNISON members in large numbers voted for Tories and Lib Dems in last election. Our task is to ask members to think again about what will happen if the Tories get in - we need to speak to our members . Get a postal vote since it is easier to vote if you have 2 jobs.

Labour doesn't have the money that Tories have but they can win if people volunteer their time to knock on doors.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is the Daily Mail "Sorry" it backed the Nazi?

Superb cartoon in Guardian by Steve Bell. A response to the deliberate Tory smear attacks on Harriet Harman.Hat tip Ravi.

Check out this : -
(Daily Mail owner) Lord Rothermere was a friend of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, and directed the Mail's editorial stance towards them in the early 1930s.[34][35] Rothermere's 1933 leader "Youth Triumphant" praised the new Nazi regime's accomplishments, and was subsequently used as propaganda by them.[36] In it, Rothermere predicted that "The minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany". Journalist John Simpson, in a book on journalism, suggested that Rothermere was referring to the violence against Jews and Communists rather than the detention of political prisoners.[37]
Rothermere and the Mail were also editorially sympathetic to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists.[38] Rothermere wrote an article entitled "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" in January 1934, praising Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine",[39] and pointing out that: "Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W."[40]

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Future News (Robin Hood Tax)

Check out this great video "The Robin Hood Tax campaign takes a cheeky look at what the world might be like in 2024, with a tax which tackles extreme poverty, climate change and cuts to public services. Starring Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), Bill Nighy (Love Actually), Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter), Heike Makatsch (The Book Thief) and Javier Cámara (Bad Education)"

Below is part of a speech I made recently in support of a "Robin Hood (or Tobin) Tax".

"The basic idea behind the Robin Hood tax is very, very simple. It is proposed that an extremely small tax or levy is placed on each share bought or sold of 0.1% - or for a derivative transaction 0.01% of its value.

In a similar way that stamp duty is already put on buying shares in the UK. The primary reason that many people support such a Robin Hood tax is that it could raise billions of pounds from the banks and financial services industry, to help repair the damage caused by them in 2007.

A form of poetic justice on those who at best were reckless - and at worse - fraudulent – and who very nearly destroyed our economy.

This is why it is called the Robin Hood Tax "To take from the rich to give to the poor".

There is one other important reason. To add to the confusion over names, this idea of a very small levy on such transactions was actually originally proposed before the financial crisis - not as a way to provide much needed revenue but as a means to discourage unstable speculative high volume trading on the financial markets by the Nobel prize winner for Economics, James Tobin. 

A tax no matter how small would have damped down such damaging trading. Ironically if we had a Tobin tax before the crash in 2007 it may well have prevented it happening in the first place or at least had made it much less worse.

Don't believe for a nano second the propaganda being put out that this will in some way weaken our financial services and will make them want to leave London for some unstable and corrupt dictatorship abroad.

I was pleased that Ed Balls, our shadow chancellor, announced at Labour Party Conference his support and that of the Party.

So please support the Robin Hood tax  and send a message to the financial markets that not only should they help clear up the message they created in the first place but also what our pension funds, our life insurance and our saving plans want is their money to be invested in long term sustainable growth, not short term risky speculation by spivs and charlatans".

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Victory for forces of light and reason!

The "evil ones" have been seen off again and the union is safe.

Great news - the forces of light and reason slate was successful today at our UNISON Greater London Regional Council AGM.

Gloria, Conroy, Lynn, Yvonne and myself were all re-elected.

I don't know the actual margin but going by the reaction I found when talking to delegates I suspect that it will be  significant.

This will be a kick in the teeth to the divisive "sour grapes brigade" who will have to find other excuses for the consistant failure of rank and file delgates to support ultra left fringe groups.

I will post further reports on the AGM later in week. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

UNISON Greater London regional AGM 2014

Tomorrow is our AGM and I will be standing again as London Finance Convenor with the forces of light and reason against the "evil ones"(the now official Dis-United left).

If you are a branch delegate please also vote for:-

Gloria Hanson - Regional Convenor
Conroy Lawrence - Deputy Convenor
Lynn Bentley - Publicty Officer
Yvonne Green - Equalitiies Convernor
(Michaela Smikle already auto elected since only candidate).

Below is my election statement.


Standing for: Regional Finance Convenor

I am currently the Regional Finance Convenor, and firmly believe that strong management of our member's money is the foundation to organising campaigns that deliver for our members. In the best of times this is true but now in the worst of times it is even more important than ever.

If re-elected as the Regional Finance Convenor I will continue to ensure that the member's money is used to support branches focusing on real issues for real members such as:

· Resisting the Tory Coalition Cuts

· Defending the NHS and Pensions

· Campaigning for directly provided services and to defend our public services

· Recruitment & building branch organisation

· Campaigning for equalities

· Strengthening our influence in all areas but in particular Community & Voluntary, Education and in Private Contractors

Open & transparent

Financial decisions need to be open and transparent and be easily understood by activists. We have a responsibility to our members to be diligent and ensure probity in our financial matters .

I want to make sure that activists better understand the financial support that is available to branches and ensure that the money gets to them to support recruitment and organising campaigns.

I am an experienced branch officer and regional activist for many years. I am currently the Branch Secretary of the Housing Associations branch, member nominated representative on Pension panel and Chair of London Labour Link. I am also the elected National Executive Council member for Community.

As part of the current lay leadership team, working in partnership with the regional office, we have had significant success in the past 8 years in strengthening our union in London by bringing greater unity, building participation across the differing service and self organised groups, and building a union to be proud of. I hope to be re- elected to continue the work we have started. In these difficult and demanding times we need a team that can deliver.

If anyone wishes to discuss my statement with me they could email me at

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gerry's Funeral

Very sad but not unexpected news last week about the death of West Ham Labour Party stalwart and trade unionist Gerry Carlile.

Click on this  blog label "Gerry Carlile" to see all the events that Gerry participated in over the years.

His funeral will be held at 2.30 on Thursday at the City of London Cemetery, Manor Park, next to Manor Park station.

Followed by a reception at the Railway Tavern Angel Lane E15.

Those who wish to make a donation to Cancer Research UK can give it to the funeral directors at the ceremony or online here.

At the Tavern we will have to give a whiskey toast to Gerry to thank him for all the years of dedication and support for the Party. He will be missed.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

Down with the rotten Cultist - But Long Live our wonderful dead Leader! (Friday Sectarian)

Comment of RCPB(ML) on
the Brixton “Slavery” Matter

Various media have asked us to comment on the Brixton "slavery" affair. As the media might have established by now, Aravindan Balakrishnan was expelled from an organisation which preceded our own in 1974, at a time when it carried a large amount of work against state-organised racist and fascist violence and in defence of minority rights and the right of the Irish people to self-determination.

You can see with the current revelations in the police investigation that the organisation which expelled him must have had good reason – first and foremost, opposition to his penchant for cultism.

For the rest, any media attempts to connect his rotten activities with Marxism-Leninism for purposes of presenting Marxism-Leninism as cultism and extremism are pure disinformation and sensationalism. Such attempts in no way assist to show what Marxism-Leninism is and we do not think they deserve an answer.

Working people are facing serious problems today as a result of the neo-liberal anti-social offensive and all its attendant injustices and ills. Turning a wretched episode in the lives of some miserable people into a salacious investigation is surely a new low even for the British media.
We have no further comment on this matter.
November 26, 2013

Long Live the Memory of Our Comrade John Buckle

Today, November 27, is the 30th anniversary of the death in 1983 of John Buckle, then General Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). He was just 34, and had led the Party since its founding in 1979.

On this occasion, we honour John’s memory, appreciating more than ever the sacrifice of those who, like John, came forward at a crucial time in history to contribute to providing solutions to serious problems of the times.
John at Digbeth
John Buckle leading the fight against
the fascists, Digbeth, Birmingham, 1978

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tower Hamlets Homes: UNISON lobby against cuts to patch sizes

Picture collage is from a lobby last night outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall.

UNISON members who work for the the ALMO Tower Hamlets Homes were protesting against plans to cut the number of estate patches from 27 to 18. This would increase the size of each area that a Housing officer would be be expected to look after by 50%.

This seems frankly daft at a time when due to welfare cuts and austerity you will need greater estate management resources in order to support and protect residents and enable the organisation to function (whose motto is after all "helping to build happy, safe and strong communities"). 

Most Housing organisations in London are prioritising estate management and many are reducing patch sizes in order to do so. The members I spoke to at the lobby were very experienced and capable staff who were genuinely worried that the service to residents would suffer and they would be unable to do their jobs properly.

I knew many of those of those present from when we all worked directly for the borough and from the days of the Tower Hamlets Housing Strike of 1999 which was also about protecting local housing services. I gave a personal message of support to the lobby as a local housing colleague and UNISON NEC member.

Everybody was really pleased that Labour Candidate for Mayor, John Biggs,  has promised in his manifesto if elected to scrap Tower Hamlets Homes and bring it back under the control of the Council.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New guide for "unsung heroes of capitalism": AMNT Open Day

After lunch Tony Manwaring and Anete Dyakova from "Tomorrow's Company" spoke about their new guide 

"Tomorrows Value – Guide for Trustees and Capital Markets initiative" which is due to be launched on 5 March with the support of the Lord Mayor of London and also former chief of the Bank of England, Melvyn King.

Tony describes Pension fund trustees as the "unsung heroes of capitalism". Which will annoy intensively some trustees I know but I think is broadly correct. The guide is a complement to the Kay Review which didn't have many proposals and was more about analysis. He believes that there needs to be a focus on :-

1.What do you believe as a trustee board (your fundamental belief)? 
2.Understand your role and
3. Your fiduciary duty.

I asked him a question whether the pension trustee guidance will also address the governance gap in nearly all Contract and many MasterTrust schemes? He said not as such but if there is governance gap and if you believe achieving long term value then need proper governance. Which I took as really meaning "Yes".

Tom advised Pension fund trustees to be sceptical. If pension funds plans had worked properly in the past they would not be in the mess they are now. He thinks if is awful that the role of trustees has not been recognised.

Anete spoke "Tomorrow capital market" and how important it is to have a mindset as trustees that is not structured and to have sustainable and stable markets.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sustainability drivers - AMNT Open Day

Ralph Wood is the global sustainability officer for our hosts AXA. He spoke about "Sustainability drivers". We have an "Alphabet soup of Acronyms" in our industry. Which doesn't help.

It is in his view now better than it has been in the past. But don't forget the G bit of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance).

I agree.

He also reminded us not to forget in assessing the role of ESG the potentially huge financial benefit of increased (green) liquidity that is due to sustainability.

Carbon bubble & carbon risk valuation tools - AMNT Open Day

The 3rd main speaker at the AMNT open meeting last week was Ben Caldecott (Stranded Assets programme, Smith School of Enterprise, Oxford University)  Ben use to be a fund manager. 

He now researches "Stranded Assets". This is a term which has a long history where due to to changes in the market, long established assets lose their value. He used the examples of "Kodak", "Nokia" and "Betamax". This is usually due to changes in regulation or technological change. But he argued a new risk is environmental unsustainable assets. e.g. Fossil fuel disinvestment.  

The size of the risk to investors is potentially huge.There is a counter argument that the risk is already market priced? We just need the usual capitalist creative destruction and then time to readjust? 

Ben argues that this is not normal risks and that there are systemic risks that need to be fully assessed and stress tested. He thinks that at this moment, the risk is on the whole poorly understood. Which if true (and it probably is) is not good news for investors (nor anyone else for that matter!).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The link between climate change and financial markets: AMNT Open Day

Former Equity analyst and Climate Change expert Meg Brown was the next speaker at the AMNT open day. Meg accepts that while she clearly sees a obvious link between climate change and investments that not everyone shares her views.

She doesn't think that equity analysts are all that skillful. Their skill is mostly in the selling. It is all about "belief" and what you expect to happen.

How else can you explain that companies are still spending a colossal $674 Billion on looking for more fossil reserves when we can only at best burn 1/3rd of existing reserves without causing climate change disaster.

Meg used the example of UK coal electric power provider Drax which is successfully changing from burning coal to bio mass. It went from facing bankruptcy to becoming a profitable success by adapting its business to climate change.

Meg spoke about the current floods as being physical evidence of climate change and how we need to look at the impact on insurance companies. There was a bit of debate in the Q&A about whether the increase in insurance pay outs due to extreme weather in recent years is due to climate change or the development of the insurance industry.
We were then split into work groups and looked at different investment funds from point of view of climate change risk. This made me realise that the lack of transparency in many funds made this very difficult if not impossible with some funds. 

Some questions that Meg suggested we should be asking our fund managers - 

Q. Where is the climate change risk in our fund? (And what are you doing about it)

Q. How do you see this risk developing?

Q. How are you hedging that risk? 

Implications of Climate Change for Investment Returns and for Beneficiaries: AMNT Open Day

This is the first in series of posts on last weeks AMNT open meeting and AGM.

I was really pleased to see that there was a quite a few UNISON LGPS member nominated reps present.

The morning was a training session on the implications of Climate Change on Investment returns and for our Beneficiaries. Bearing in mind the very unusal weather we have been having this winter, this is a very topical subject.

Our meeting was opened by our Joint Chair Barry Parr who introduced Catherine Howarth. (see picture) who is a former pension trustee and the CEO of ShareAction (use to be called "Fair Pensions").

Catherine believes that Trust schemes have clear duties to take Climate Change seriously but with Contract schemes it is less clear legally but still a compelling reason to act.

She spoke about the Greenlight report launched recently with Pension Minister Steve Webb MP. There is a need to "nudge" pension schemes into managing the growing risk of climate change. There are a number of good schemes that are addressing this but many others who clearly "don't get it".

One sign of a good scheme is how well it communicates with its members.  Schemes needs to organise relevant training, look at governance policy development and carry out risk assessments. Need to look at low carbon investment opportunities and take into account that Auto-enrolment will bring in many young people into pension schemes, who will bear all the investment risk  of climate change in the coming decades.

Next was a speaker from PRI then climate change expert Meg Brown.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Union workplaces are safer workplaces - We love red tape

Hat tip Phil Lewis and Hazards.This argument is 100% in favour of union safety reps. If you don't support trade union reps at work then please note that you can be personally liable if things go wrong.  Not only imprisonment but your own home as well could be at risk. It is in everyone's interest that employers and trade unions work together to make safer workplaces.

Update: link for Hazards conference booking form

Friday, February 14, 2014

“This is a revolt against oppression" Silvertown Strike 1889

"This is a revolt against oppression: a protest against the brute force which keeps a huge population down in the depths of the most dire degradation, for the benefit of a knot of profit-hunters …
this is a strike of the poor against the rich.”

—William Morris, 1889

Silvertown The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labor Movement

by John Tully

foreword by John Callow;
introductory comment by John Marriott

Adds immeasurably to our understanding of the ‘new unionism’ of the Victorian era. Through writing as impassioned as it is reasoned, Tully brings to life ‘the people of the abyss’ at one of their finest hours, in which the solidarity of the ‘outcasts’ proclaims the possibility of ‘a better world in birth.’ This is history at its best: rigorous in its use of sources and capacities to broaden our ways of seeing experience; analytically demanding in the ways it pushes us to rethink conventional wisdoms of all kinds; and imaginative in the range of its argumentation.

—Bryan D. Palmer, Canada Research Chair, Trent University

“A major contribution . . . Its detailed examination of a single, lengthy, and unsuccessful strike in 1889 in a large Silvertown rubber and gutta percha factory throws important new light on the development of the New Unionism in Britain and its relationship with the ‘aristocracy of labor.’ It is a serious and scholarly work written not with the usual academic detachment, but with a profound and moving feeling of empathy for the dispossessed and the exploited.”

—Alvaro de Miranda,
London East Research Institute, University of East London

In 1889, Samuel Winkworth Silver’s rubber and electrical factory was the site of a massive worker revolt that upended the London industrial district which bore his name: Silvertown. Once referred to as the “Abyss” by Jack London, Silvertown was notorious for oppressive working conditions and the relentless grind of production suffered by its largely unorganized, unskilled workers. These workers, fed-up with their lot and long ignored by traditional craft unions, aligned themselves with the socialist-led “New Unionism” movement. Their ensuing strike paralyzed Silvertown for three months. 

The strike leaders –including Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Eleanor Marx, and Will Thorne—and many workers viewed the trade union struggle as part of a bigger fight for a “co-operative commonwealth.” With this goal in mind, they shut down Silvertown and, in the process, helped to launch a more radical, modern labor movement". 

hat tip  Felix Dzerzhinsky

Labour Today in West Ham

Picture collage is from last Saturday's Labour doorstep in West Ham ward.

The "gang of three" on the left are West Hammers John Whitworth, Ron Manley and yours truly.

One proud resident had the West Ham Football Club motif on their wall (top right).

As well as door knocking we were delivering the latest newsletter "Labour Today". 

There was a debate with residents whether the emergency locksmith number illegally stick on everyone's letter plate in this street and elsewhere (bottom right) was a failed locksmith business venture or a "sophisticated new scam" (see Daily Mail) by burglar's to identify vulnerable properties.

I have phoned the number but it has been constantly engaged. 

I have been told that placing the stickers on doors is probably criminal damage but there is no evidence that this was part of any wider criminal conspiracy.  Surely this not mean that the Daily Mail was telling porkies? 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why do UK pension funds drive without an airbag?
Guest post by Paul Blyth. What do people think? "Many leading European pension funds, insurance companies, and hedge funds have been actively controlling the volatility of their investment portfolios for many years and to positive effect; S&P has been running indices in this area since September 2009; and yet UK pension funds seem barely aware that there are tried and tested techniques to manage the downside risk associated with high volatility in mainstream equity portfolios.   

This post attempts to provide a very high level introduction to the subject.

What’s the big idea?

By controlling volatility in your portfolio it’s possible to avoid the catastrophic impact of major market crashes.

What’s the theory?
·      Knowing today’s closing price (e.g. FTSE-100 index level) is no use at all in predicting tomorrow’s price, next week’s price etc. i.e. it’s a random walk.  By contrast, knowing today’s level of volatility in price does help you to predict tomorrow’s volatility, and the day after, and the day after that etc., in fact there is ~30% correlation between today’s volatility and the volatility that follows – this predictive ability diminishes over time and disappears after ~100 days.
     Higher levels of volatility in equity markets are strongly co-related with under performance and most importantly with major drawdowns and crashes.
·      Ergo, we can use today’s volatility to help us predict tomorrow’s volatility, and if tomorrow’s volatility is forecast to be high, then we should “get out” of the market to reduce our chance of having a crash.

OK in theory, but how do I implement this?
·         Set a maximum level of volatility for each element of your portfolio - aka a risk budget
·         Review the volatility on a periodic basis (we recommend daily)
·         If the volatility stays within your budget (most of the time) – do nothing – this is primarily a “do nothing” strategy.
·         If the volatility breaches the risk budget limit, then reduce your exposure to the market as per your risk budget.
Is this going to mess up my strategic asset allocation and other parts of my risk management? 
No.  This strategy is implemented by means of a Risk Overlay i.e. you can leave everything just as it is and put an “overlay” on top of your equity portfolio.
 Is it legal for local authorities? 
 Our lawyer says “Yes” (do check with your own).  Using derivatives to manage downside risk of an   existing portfolio is not speculative and therefore allowed under LGPS rules.
Where’s the catch?
This strategy “does what it says on the tin” - it manages your volatility.  It does not promise to deliver improved return or protect you against all drawdowns.  History shows us that times of high volatility are often associated with significant falls in equity markets, but this will not be the case for all equity markets for all time periods.
What’s with the airbag?
The analogy is that you continue to “drive” your pension fund however you like and at whatever speed you like i.e. you’re in control of SAA, risk budget etc., and the Risk Overlay is the “airbag” that helps protect you at times of accident … it does not prevent an accident from happening, but it may just save your life if you get into a crash.
What does the chart look like?
Since the turn of the century[1], the S&P500 has returned 44% to investors with a volatility of ~21%; implementing a simple Risk Overlay (RO) would have reduced volatility by a third and increased returns to 65% (see chart below).

Author:  Paul Blyth, Fundo S.A.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

International Women's Day 8 March 2014 - West Ham Labour Women's Forum

Attention ALL women living in Newham!!!
To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, West Ham Labour Women’s Forum
(Supported by East Ham Sisters)
invite you to a gathering of ladies at the Women’s Wonderland.
At the Women’s Wonderland there will be:
v  Facials and massages
v  Cooking Masterclasses
v  Health and Wellbeing
v  Community opportunities available on your doorstep
v  Delicious cakes
v  Face-painting and colouring corner for children
v  Qualified health professionals providing health tutorials

Come along and have a coffee with women from your community and have a fun and entertaining afternoon celebratingInternational Women’s Day with your local MP Lyn Brown!!

It’s free admission so bring your girl friends, mum, sisters, aunties, daughters and nieces!
We look forward to meeting you on 8th March from 1pm at Vicarage Lane Community Centre.
Warmest wishes,
Seyi Akiwowo West Ham Women’s Officer
the West Ham Labour Women’s Forum.                                             #WHIWD14                                              @westhamlabour

Many thanks,