Monday, June 30, 2014

Can you be a Socialist and a Patriot?

Hat tip to Ipswich Labour Councillor and former soldier Alasdair Ross, for his post on Lord West, who is a former Labour government minister and 1st Sea Lord (Head of Royal Navy).

Lord West confirmed to Alasdair at a "Labour Friends of the Forces" reception that he had told the Daily Telegraph his views of Tory minister Michael Gove, who suggested that you cannot be a Socialist and a Patriot by promising to teach him in a boxing ring - that you can.

Gove's ill judged comments remind me of the Daily Mail's foul attacks on the Patriotism of Labour Leader Ed Miliband by attacking his father Ralph Miliband, as a man "who hated Britain".

As the poster above reminds us, Ed's father was risking his life for Britain in the Royal Navy during the D Day landings, while a few years before, the owner of the Daily Mail was praising Hitler and the fascist Blackshirts.

Of course you can be a socialist and be a patriot who wants to defend your country against militarist or Nazi aggression. However, being proud of your country doesn't mean you think it is perfect and  that you don't want to change it for the better.

I would also add that in my view, if you are a socialist (as I define), you just have to be also an internationalist. 

My final comment is that during Easter 1982 I was a 19 year old officer cadet in the territorial army and went on a familiarisation course with 29 Commando Regiment in Plymouth. During the course we visited the naval base and went on a tour of one of the ships based there called HMS Ardent. It was an interesting break from very arduous exercises and its crew were very friendly and welcoming.

A few short weeks later during the Battle for the Falklands, HMS Ardent was struck by 17 bombs in less than 22 minutes and was sunk, killing 22 (10%) of its crew. Its captain was the last man to leave the ship. His name was Alan West, who later became Lord West. A man who has actually some life experience to back his views, unlike Mr Gove, that you can indeed, be a socialist and a patriot.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Open Public Service' agenda: Turning the tide on privatisation using the new UK Public Procurement Regulations fringe #uNDC14

This post is a little late but this was one of the most interesting fringes at UNISON National Conference this year (#uNDC14).

The meeting was chaired by Jane Carolan (2nd from right) UNISON NEC.

First speaker was Dave Watson (2nd from left) who is the Senior UNISON Scotland Policy officer. Dave argued that while the public sector in Scotland is important, a third of the Scottish budget is actually spend on the private and voluntary sector. There has been a Scottish Procurement Reform Act which was intended to be "business friendly".  UNISON had argued for "10 asks" to be in the Act. Not all were agreed but preventing trade union black listers and tax dodging companies bidding for public contracts is in there as is (indirectly) a Scottish living wage.

Dave then gave the best bit of advice on dealing with lawyers that I have ever heard. Don't ask your legal advisers "what is legal position?" Ask instead "this what we intend to do - so can you advise us how to do it".

Former head of the Socialist Health Association (SHA) Richard Bourne (left of photo) was next. He saw  procurement as a "weapon". He didn't see European legislation as being the real enemy since it is fairly liberal. The problem is the Tories. While Councils are quite good at it, health is "crap" at procurement. They tend to be arrogant, not open and transparent and with no accountability. They find it almost impossible to get it right - so challenge. There has been a number of successes.

3rd speaker (see photo middle) was Chris Durnall, who is a top trade union activist, fellow Community Branch Secretary and member of our Service Group Executive. She works for a national Children's charity. Chris reported on the onslaught in our sector of attacks on terms and conditions, reductions in numbers and lower grades. Our members have suffered cuts in pay of up to 40%, Defined benefit pensions are a distant memory and employers treat staff as "costs" not people.

We need a political approach. Commissioners, employers and unions need to work together. We need political and industrial pressure to bring about a living wage and better pay. We need an Ethical care policy with full costs recovery. Move away procurement and return to grant funding and wage councils. A strong union is the best thing we have to protect members.

Matt Dykes (right of picture), Senior policy officer at the TUC was the last speaker. He spoke about "Social Procurement" with agreement about models being used for bids. He wants to see Freedom of Information applied to all with "open book accounting" . All contracted out staff ought to be on NJC (local government) terms and conditions. There is no significant evidence that outsourcing works. There is now a trend for "in-sourcing". We need a Social Value Act. Public opinion is on our side. There is a lot of support within the Labour Party (such as John Trickett MP) but we have to convince their Treasury team that it is value for money.

There was not that much time for a Q&A but I remember Dave Watson explaining that in his experience the cost of a Living wage is cost always exaggerated. In the ones he has been involved in it has only been 1/3 the estimated cost.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

West Ham Labour Party AGM 2014 - The return of Agent Gray

On Thursday evening there was the AGM of West Ham Constituency Labour Party (CLP) which took place at our headquarters in the High Street, Stratford, E15.

The meeting began a with a 2 minutes silence to mark the recent unexpected death of respected East Ham Councillor, Alec Kellaway.  I known Alec for many years and and had worked closely with him on the Council Investment and Accounts Committee.  He had always been very considerate and supportive. His death is a personal shock and a great loss to the Party. Council meetings will not be the same without his home baked cakes.

The AGM went very smoothly and congratulations to the re-elected Chair, Charlene McLean and the other elected constituency officers;  Alan Griffiths, John Saunders, Gordon Miller, Julianne Marriott and Seyi Akiwowo. 

Elected CLP Coordinators are Dianne Walls, Kim Silver, Veronica Oakeshott, Rania Ramli, Winston Vaughan, Conor McAuley, Terry Paul and David Christie.

Due to a very previous wicked life, I was elected as Campaign Coordinator and Agent with Mas Patel as Assistant.

Obviously the next year will be dominated by the forthcoming General Election and the need to re-elect our excellent local MP, Lyn Brown. While it is vital to keep up with the energetic local campaigning and canvassing that we have carried out since 2010, we all know that unless Labour wins its national target seats next year, Newham will be stuffed by a return of Tory rule.

Therefore we have a duty to make sure that in West Ham we do our bit in the target seats that we have been asked by the Party to support. As our Secretary, Alan Griffith, reminded us on the night, we have only "45 weeks until the 7th May 2014 General Election". Let us by hard work and unity turn this statement into we have only "45 weeks to get rid of this rotten Tory led Government".

(Picture of our West Ham HQ during the General Election 2010 when I was also the Agent)

"Workplace safety law is top life saver" says Daily Telegraph

A very surprising article by a Torygraph Leader writer. What next I wonder? "Paying taxes is good for you!"? Hat tip TUC Risks e-letter 

"Britain’s workplace safety law has probably saved more lives than any other piece of legislation, an article in the Telegraph has said.
Telegraph leader writer Philip Johnston noted: “Health and safety has become synonymous with nanny statism, interfering jobsworths, ludicrous litigation and risk aversion.

And yet the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA), which is 40 years old this summer, has arguably saved more lives than any other piece of legislation, including the ban on drink driving or the compulsory wearing of seat belts in cars. It may well have reduced deaths by 5,000 or more.”

He added: “Forty years on, the Act has achieved what it set out to do, which is to insist upon high standards of health and safety in places of work. All we need do now is to apply the law with the common sense that inspired it in the first place.” The article mirrored comments earlier this year by HSE chair Judith Hackitt.

In a January blog she wrote: “This year will mark 40 years since Health and Safety at Work Act received Royal Assent. Arguably it is one of the best pieces of legislation on the statute books – although we know it is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. It has protected millions of British workers, and driven sharp reductions in incidents of occupational death, serious injury and ill health.”

This week the government’s latest attempt to weaken the lifesaving law, measures in the Deregulation Bill to exempt most of the self-employed from HASAWA’s scope, returned again to the House of Commons.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Woolwich Ferry on route home from #uNDC14

Off message but last Sunday I was on my way home to East London from UNISON NDC conference via a weekend recovering in Worthing. The traffic approaching the Blackwell Tunnel was bloody awful so I decided to take the scenic route home to Newham via the Woolwich Ferry.

Only one car ferry across the River Thames runs during the weekend, so there was a bit of a wait but it is far, far better than being stuck in slow moving traffic. If you need to cross London by car and you are not in a rush,  then I always recommend the Woolwich Ferry. 

The views across the river while waiting or on the Ferry are always beautiful and magnificent. Of course the whole of East London needs another bridge or tunnel across the Thames but that is another matter.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) is not "Sexy" #uNDC14

The "Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership" (TTIP) is a proposed treaty between the European Union and the USA (and there is a separate one being negotiated with Canada).

UNISON London delegate, Lucy McLean, had this speech ready at our annual Conference (NDC) last week warning Conference about the dangers of TTIP and what to do about it, but was knocked off from speaking by a point of order "asking the question be put". 

It is an important speech and a shame it was not heard by conference. People generally just do not realise how awful TTIP could turn out to be... "the horror, the horror".
"President, Conference - Lucy McLean, Camden and Islington Health speaking in favour of Composite G.

Conference, I'll admit when I'm out and about talking to members in our NHS workplaces, talk often turns away from the local or national issue at hand, away from our pay challenges, our staffing issues and turns to the "water cooler moment" - RCN members said WHAT? about GP charges this week?! Or can you believe who died in Game of Thrones last night?!

Sadly, the "transatlantic trade and investment partnership” is not the hot topic of the day amongst my fellow workers nor our patients. It's just not... Sexy.

Yet, Conference, if this proposed agreement goes ahead as planned: this could mean that my NHS, your NHS, our public owned NHS could be completely privatised, beyond even, the wildest dreams of the far right extremists in UKIP and the Conservative Party.

Conference, TTIP is a Trojan horse to bring about permanent privatisation of all public services. I quote Professor John Hilary that its intention is “to create new markets by opening up public services to competition from transnational corporations”.

Even worse, if a British government in the future wanted to bring back in house, a fully privatised NHS, it would be in breach of the TTIP agreement and would face massive fines for doing so.

Conference, we have a huge job ahead of us to get our message out to all our members and their families; whether they work in health or not; we are all users of the NHS and we would all suffer if it was to be further privatised.

I will need help Conference from my union to make TTIP the "watercooler" topic of the day in my workplaces. All branches and activists will need information, support and guidance to get this message over.  

Conference, support the action on Saturday July 12th, get the message out to members on TTIP and let's take on this latest challenge to our NHS... and win.

Thank you and please support Composite G.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Council staff to go on Strike on 10 July over 5th consecutive year of Pay Cuts

UNISON members who work in Local Government will be out on strike over pay cuts on Thursday 10 July. I believe that other unions will also be out on that day including the National Union of Teachers.

5 consecutive years of real term pay cuts to predominantly already low paid workers providing vital public services is just unacceptable.

Below are some of the powerful arguments being put out by UNISON about why this strike is necessary.  Enough is enough. 

"The employer’s side of the National Joint Council (NJC) for Local Government Services, which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland, refuses to renegotiate on its 1% final offer.

The trade union side claim to the NJC this year was designed to call a halt to poverty pay in local government and schools.

The trade unions are seeking a minimum of £1 an hour for employees on NJC terms and conditions to make the living wage rate the bottom pay rate in local government and - because everyone on NJC pay is low paid for the jobs they do - the same flat rate increase on all other pay points

"They really need it. They had a pay freeze from 2010 until 2013, followed by a 1% increase in 2013 when inflation was 2%. Now they have been offered another pay cut – 1%, while inflation is 2.5%. Their basic pay is the lowest in the public sector".

"Over one million NJC workers (two thirds) earn less than £21,000 a year. That's below the government's 'low pay' threshold and over £5,500 less than annual median earnings in the economy in 2012".

"Over half a million local government workers earn less than the living wage of £7.65 per hour".

"workers in local government have seen an 18% drop in basic pay in real terms since 2010

Reminder - Women & Power in Europe debate this evening

Dear Compass Supporter,

Just to remind you of our event (Tuesday) at 7.30 at the West Ham Supporters Club, Castle Street, off Green Street. Near the junction with Barking Road. Nearest tube Upton Lane E6:
 Charlotte Minvielle of the French Socialist Party
 Violeta Vajda, Green Party Euro Candidate
 Women & Power in Europe
Chaired by Graham Lane
Very sadly Farah Nazeer has been unable to shift a clinic appointment and is thus unable to be with us. 
I Look forward to seeing you all there.

Monday, June 23, 2014

After the week that was - UNISON Conference #uNDC14

On Friday afternoon after the close of the 2014 UNISON NDC conference at Brighton, I went to nearby Worthing for the weekend to recover.

On Saturday I went for 10.5 mile walk across ancient iron age forts in the South Downs. The weather was simply glorious, very warm with blue skies but there was a nice cooling breeze.

You could see Brighton in the far distance. I had spent the last 4 days from 9am to 6pm in what is fundamentally, a very large shed with up to 2500 other people. Walking outdoors in shorts, sandals and tee-shirt in beautiful countryside was a real treat. It was strange to start the day without a standing orders committee report mind!

It had been a very successful conference and we are now clearly taking the fight over low pay to the government. We were I think on the whole united and "in UNISON". Bizarrely one of the few disputes in the conference hall originated in the squabbling and infighting following the demise of the extremist so called "United left" group.

While I may wish the ultra left trotskyist "permanent revolutionaries" will stop fibbing their manta at the end of every speech that "their union money is going to the Labour Party" (the truth is that it is only from members who choose to pay the Labour Link levy), I enjoy their distinctive sleep inducing "house style" of speaking, which in the absence of hard liquor makes listening to them bearable.

While none of the motions that I was due to speak on behalf of the NEC came up high enough in the agenda, I did enjoy listening to the debates and the fringes. I was able to help out my branch delegation with speech writing and chaired the Capital Stewardship fringe.

A highlight of conference for me was the election by the NEC of Eric Roberts (London Ambulance Service branch secretary and Health NEC) as a new UNISON Vice President. Eric is a London comrade and top trade unionist. I look forward to him being President of the union in 2016.

I will post further reports on Conference as and when I write them up. 

Roll on UNISON Conference 2015 in Glasgow.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

One Housing Group Sack Union Steward for leading Strike

Sign the petition here demanding that Unite Steward, Bryan Kennedy, is reinstated after being sacked last week by One Housing Group.

Bryan led a strike at One Housing Group over pay cuts last year.

Anyone, who has had any dealing with  Bryan, would not believe the rubbish that One Housing Group is putting out about him and why they have sacked him. Remember that One Housing Group has "form" for victimising union reps.

Bryan has spent his entire career in social housing and has a young family to support. His sacking is further evidence on how completely out of touch and control the Housing Association sector is becoming.  A future Labour government must end the cronyism and corruption that is epidemic in far too many associations, big and small.

Those Associations who have managed to maintain their principals and remain accountable and true to their social housing traditions must take action to distance themselves from the rogue elements who are in my view going to bring about the downfall of the whole sector.

We cannot trust these people anymore with public money.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Bloody Poles, coming over here, protecting our women and children"

Least we forget the many Polish fighters who were killed, burnt, disfigured and injured defending our country in our hour of need.

Remembering as always, a good friend of mine and UNISON comrade, the son of Polish fighter who fought in the British Army for our freedom against fascism and who was one of many who later settled in East London. RIP George (Jerzy).

Hat tip Mark Rayner and Hope Not Hate.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Capital Stewardship Fringe - introduction #uNDC14

This is introduction to the fringe I chaired on Wednesday evening.

"Welcome. My name is John Gray I am branch secretary of Greater London region Housing Association branch and an NEC member for Community. I have also been a member of the Local Government Pension Fund (LGPS) since 1993 and since 1996 I have been an observer then a member nominated representative (MNR) on my scheme investment panel and pension committee.

On my right is a person who needs no real introduction, Colin Meech, UNISON national officer for Capital Stewardship and LGPS governance specialist.

The agenda for today’s meeting is a few words from me following by an update by Colin on the latest developments on the governance of the LGPS.

I have been paying around 6% of my wages into my Pension for over 20 years. My employers have been paying the equivalent of about 14% of my wages, my deferred pay for the same period.

To be clear. My pension fund is my own money. Yet when I first became a pension rep on my scheme and began asking what was happening with my money, the 20% of my pay that I and my fellow union members had been paying into the fund, I remember being told by one Councillor on its pension panel that I was "an observer, and observers should be observe and not speak".

Now, as you can imagine I gave that Councillor the benefit of my views on my right to speak and raise questions about my money at this and any other future meeting. To be fair that was the last time that happened to me but that attempt to put me in my place reminded me that essentially, we were powerless in the LGPS, especially compared to private sector member nominated representatives who had the legal right to be full members of pension boards with voting rights.

To be frank I was lucky in my scheme that we were even “allowed” to attend the pension committee. Some UNISON members were told by Chairs that "over their dead body would they have a union rep at their meeting”. Note the view that this is “their” meeting. Of course some Funds had no pension committee at all, and the fund was run by a Chief Officer alone. There have also been well run funds that welcome MNRs.

This is why I am so pleased thanks largely to UNISON and our national officers such as Colin that we now have some real rights and responsibilities to govern our own money. Colin will brief you on the next steps but he will also warn you about the inevitable resistance by vested interests to the democratisation and efficient running of our funds. The usual suspects still want things to remain the same and treat us as 2nd class trustees.

Colin will also point us in the right direction but it is up to all of us to do our bit and make sure that we stop the financial services industry ripping off our pension funds and making sure that we invest our money in long term, sustainable, well managed investments that don’t for example employ child labour, doesn't kill its workers, bride public officials or destroys the environment.

Not only do we not want our money used in this way but also it is our belief that this will make more money for our fund than short term speculation. 

I have now witted on enough and will pass you over to Mr Meech. Q&A afterwards. We will finish at 6.15pm".

(I will post a report on Colin's presentation next)

Motion 37: Women and the Housing Crisis #uNDC14

Another speech by Doreen on Wednesday.

"President, Conference, Doreen Davies, Greater London Housing Association branch speaking in favour of motion 37

Conference, I work in a small specialist Black housing association in inner London that temporary houses and supports vulnerable young women. Many suffering from family rejection, addiction problems or fleeing abusive relationships

My association could house 10, 20, 30 times or more the number of young women we currently support. The reality of the housing crisis for many young women is street homelessness.

But Conference, the housing crisis is not just about the massive shortage of housing in many part of this country but also that the access to accommodation that is available is often non existent.

It is unaffordable or badly maintained or insecure. Or all three. Do not forget Conference that the rebirth of the private rental sector has also led to the rebirth of Rachman landlordism in this country. Women in particular are vulnerable to violence, harassment and intimidation. Especailly if they care for children.

Conference, let us build the homes that women need in this country and make sure that all homes whether private or public are decent, secure and affordable. Conference please support this motion".  Motion was passed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Keeping our Voice! Winning the Political Fund Ballot fringe #uNDC14

"...don't be confused. The ballot is a vote about having a political voice and not on affiliation"

This fringe took place yesterday lunchtime (Wednesday). Chaired by Vice President Lucia McKeever. Assistant General Secretary Liz Snape was also present.

Eleanor Smith, the Chair of UNISON National Link political fund spoke first. She made it clear that our political funds are our union's voice. That is why the Tories hate them. 

Every 10 years we now have to ballot all members about whether or not to keep our political funds. Eleanor listed the successful campaigns that the funds had run in recent years and this is why we need that voice.

The Labour Link fund is a key voice for union. It means we can take up the big issues of pay and resources and other specific issues such as social care and privatisation. The recent Labour victory in the West Midlands saw the collapse of biggest ever Police staff privatisation programme. Never forget that gay marriage was delivered by Labour MP's. The ballot is not about the relationship with the Labour Party, it is about being able to campaign and speak out.

James Anthony, the General Political Fund (GPF) Chair spoke next. UNISON has a unique political fund structure but other unions may adopt our model soon.

The recent Government "Lobbying Bill" was intended to target UNISON. The law is in place but we are waiting for guidance from the election commission. We can communicate with our members outside the Bill. It is important to have the GPF since many of our members members do not support Labour and vote for the Tories or don't vote at all. 

Nearly all conferences motions need to have a political voice. It would be pointless to try and campaign without this . It works best when the GPF campaigns in tandem with Labour Link. Without a political fund we would not be able to promote causes such as equality, self organised groups, Pride, Durham Miners Gala. The fund also help us make the best arguments by funding research.

Without the political fund we would not be able to ask voters not to vote for racist parties. Remember how we helped defeat the BNP fascist. Pay is a huge issue. We need to take forward a political message. We will only win strike action if we win the support of the public as well as our members.

If the political funds were not so successful, the Tories would have not tried so hard to get rid of them.

Jean Geldart from "Hope Not Hate" spoke last. Jean is of course a retired UNISON activist and former NEC member.  She reminded us that in 1993 the first ever BNP Councillor was elected in Tower Hamlets in a by election. The GPF gave £30k and bank rolled the campaign to get rid him.  Which 9 months later we did at the full Council election. You can only campaign against a political party if you have a political fund.

There used to be 2 BNP European Members of Parliament and 57 Councillors with 12 in Stoke and 12 in Barking and Dagenham where they formed the opposition. We didn't listen to those who said "ignore them they will go away". HNH paid for organisers to work in Barking & Dagenham.  The BNP is now finished. They have only 2 Cllrs left. This was due substantially due to funded campaigning.

We now have UKIP. Again, some people are saying "ignore them and they will go away". The UNISON campaign in North West region against the BNP & UKIP involved over a million bits of paper. Only 6 UKIP Cllrs were elected in that region. Which is far less than other similar parts of the country.

This country would be going in a different direction if not for the GPF which embodies Union values.

In Q&A I asked Jean (I use to be the assistant branch secretary of Tower Hamlets Local Government branch when she was branch secretary) What impact the lobbying bill will have on Hope Not Hate?
She said not as much as on the GPF since their total income is relatively small but the biggest problem is the 10k limit per Parliamentary Constituency. That means for example that UKIP will out spend us in their target seats since you just don't just pay for the paper in leaflets but also the pay of staff who design it.

Liz Snape concluded that this ballot is not about a particular party but about the funds. We want a big yes vote."... don't be confused. The ballot is a vote about having a political voice and not on affiliation"

There was a good question from a delegate that Labour Link should be doing more to point out its successes since he was fed up with the extreme left whinging about the Labour Party during every opportunity at conference.

Lucia reminded us about the threat that UKIP poses.  In her home in the north of Ireland she had lived through 40 years of racism and sectarianism. This has got to stop. There are now 3 UKIP Councillors in Northern Ireland who had all left unionist parties due to their extremist views.

Composite A - Organising in fragmented workforces #uUNDC14

The shy and retiring, Doreen Davies, speaking yesterday on this important motion to the Community Service Group and the future of the union.

"President, Conference, Doreen Davies, Greater London Housing Association branch speaking in favour of Composite A.

Conference, my branch is a community service group specific branch which organises in over 130 different employers in the Housing and voluntary sector in London and the South East delivering public services from over a thousand different workplaces.

We also have to organise in employers who have staff who work 5 different UNISON regions and are members of a number of different branches apart from ours.

Not only are our members fragmented physically and geographically their pay and conditions are frankly a dog’s dinner. We have members who are on former local government, health, private, spot rates, Hay, profit sharing, minimum wage, living wage, permanent contracts, agency contracts, zero hour contracts, shifts work.

Imagine how difficult it is to draw up pay claims and defend members against proposed restructures when you have so many different branches to consult. Remembering that many traditional sole employer branches are fully committed to trying to protect their core membership and have little or no spare resources or facility time to respond.

Conference, we must ensure that our structures are fit for purpose. The reason for our existence as a trade union is to organise and bargain on behalf of our members who deliver public services. While I agree that we must continue to fight for us to be employed directly by democratically elected public bodies we must wake up and smell the coffee and make sure that we can deliver for our members in the here and now.

This fragmentation is not only just a problem for our union it is an organising opportunity. At a time when our membership numbers and income is under threat as never before we must look long and hard at our structures and indeed target employers which are large enough to support networks of stewards to self organise and defend members.

Conference, let us indeed have a national and regional plan. Let us have a collective solution to help tackle a private sector nightmare. Conference, please support this composite". 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Cut Stress Not Jobs" - how to use H&S issues in workplaces to aid Organising and Recruiting #uNDC14

I went to the lunchtime fringe on health and safety. This was Chaired by Malcolm Harrington, from the National H&S committee. First speaker was Hilda Palmer from National Hazards campaign  & FACK (Families against Corporate Killers).

Hilda introduced herself as a "trouble maker and shit stirrer". She promoted the Hazards conference which takes place 29-31 August at Keele university (which UNISON is a strong supporter)

Health & Safety faces a perfect storm of attacks by this right wing government. As well as attacks on public services and the benefit safety net there is a  "Neo feudalism" race to the bottom.

The attack on H&S is not just about cuts but the government wants more power for employers and to get rid of minimum standards.

The Government say we should be competing with countries such as Turkey, where 200 miners were recently killed to due management negligence; Qatar, where it is estimated 1400 workers will die building the football stadiums for the next world cup and China were they have to fit suicide nets outside factories to stop workers killing themselves by throwing themselves off the roof.  Instead why don't they want us to complete with countries such as Norway which has a successful economy with high H&S standards.  

There has been neo liberals in Government since the 1970's but this one is on steroids, rowing back a century of progress. We didn't vote to die at work. It is worse now than we possibly thought. All the evidence is that regulation saves lives and money

We love red tape. Better than bloody bandages. Remember that its not 148 who die at work each year (HSE) but nearer 50,000 who die each year from work incidents and disease. Compare this is the 532 murders. Don't forget the impact of ill health on peoples lives.

While the Health and Safety Executive estimate it costs £8 billion per year due to cancer deaths, Hazards think it is nearer to £60 billion.

The damage by Con-Dems since they took power in 2010 is immense. They have had 4 "reviews". The requirement to report accidents (RiDDOR) has been reduced resulting 30,000 less reports per year. There has been a 44% cut in the HSE. While there has been a 90% reduction in pro active inspections by local authority inspectors.  The Lofstedt report said that there was no need for radical change in H&S but the self employed are being exempted from the law and if they hurt anyone they cannot be prosecuted under H&S.

Tracey Harding, the Head of UNISON H&S unit spoke next on the new campaign "Cut Stress Not Jobs". Stress is one of the top 5 hazards identified by members. Cutting jobs and increasing work load leads to stress on those workers who are left. There are 2 main aims. Campaign against cuts and support for those affected.

UNISON will relaunch stress guidance in time for European Health and Safety week (EH&SW) and provide leaflets and other information. EH&SW will focus on Stress.

Branches need to try and engage with employers and encourage them to have a stress management strategy, conduct a stress audit and carry out stress risk assessments

Stress audits help employers pin point issues rather use a scatter gun approach. Also look at staff turnover and exist interviews,

Engage with members as well and and urge then to report stress issues and provide them support mechanism.

My comment in the Q&A at the end was that one of the best way to improve all forms of health and safety is to increase union membership and organisation. The more people in the union the safer we all are at work.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

UNISON National Delegate Conference 2014 #uNDC14

UNISON National Delegate Conference has just started. Picture from early this morning at Brighton beach.

For the first time ever at Brighton, I finally managed to go for a swim in the sea. It was, let me say, rather cold, but you soon got use to it. Must remember to keep my mouth shut when under water mind.  Some folk may suggest this is not the only occasion that I should keep it shut.

I arrived yesterday evening and went straight to the London Regional briefing for delegates and visitors in the Holiday Inn. Conference Standing orders Committee (SOC) took a bit of stick over motions ruled out of order. "SOC bashing" is of course a recognised UNISON sport enjoyed by many.

I am on the platform at front of conference with my National Executive Committee (NEC) colleagues. NEC Bashing" is another traditional conference sport, which which no doubt will be indulged in during the coming days.

First business at conference was the introduction of international guests. Now Maureen  le Marinel is making her Presidential address to conference. Her central message is that when we are united and work together - we can win.

Maureen made a personal, passionate and emotional speech "straight from the heart" as my good comrade Mary Locke sitting next to me said.

Next, conference remembered all those members and Labour movement figures who died in the past 12 months. The first name to appear on the screen behind us was Stuart Barber, London regional organiser who sadly died of an heart attack this year and whose memorial service will take place next month.

I will try and post on NDC as much as I can during conference. In between preparing my speeches and helping my branch delegation. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

45 more good reasons to Vote Labour

It all makes perfect sense to me. Hat tip Kitty Jones

Labour builds, the Tories always destroy.

Here is the first stage of Labours’ costed and evidence-based plan to rebuild the UK:

1. Labour pledge to build 200,000 by 2020, focusing on social housing.
2. Labour pledged to create a State-Owned Rail Company that would compete and win back Rail Franchises.
3. Labour vow to cut business rates for small firms.
4. Labour vowed to introduce an increased Bankers’ Bonus Tax if they win in 2015.
5. Labour promised Free Childcare worth £5,000 a year for working parents who had children aged 3&4.
6. Labour committed to Sacking ATOS, Serco and G4S if they win the election.
7. Ed Miliband promised to repeal the Bedroom Tax.
8. Ed Balls pledged to reverse the Pension Tax relief that the Tories gifted to millionaires.
9. Labour promised to reverse the Tory Tax cut for Hedge Funds.
10. Labour pledged they will create 200,000 Apprenticeships
11. Ed Miliband vowed to increase the fine levied on firms not paying the Minimum Wage by 1000% to £50,000.
12. Labour are to introduce a new Disability Hate Crime Prevention Law.
13. Labour would freeze gas and electricity bills for every home and business in the UK for at least 20 months, the big energy firms would be split up and governed by a new tougher regulator to end overcharging.
14. Voting age to be lowered to 16.
15. NHS to be re-nationalised.
16. Miliband also said that any private company that does not meet the needs of the public will be brought under state control.
17. Labour will ban exploitative zero hour contracts.
18. Labour have pledged to introduce a living wage.
19. Labour have pledged to reverse the £107,000 tax break that the Tories have given to the millionaires.
20. Labour will reintroduce the 50p tax.
21. Labour will repeal clause 119.
22. Labour will introduce a law making Private Companies subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
23. Labour will introduce a Mansion Tax on properties worth more than £2 million
24. Labour will make up the difference to the value in the minimum wage is restored, reversing the Tory cut of 5%.
25. Labour will halt Michael Gove’s Free School Expansion Programme.
26. Labour will abolish the Tory ban on Local Education Authorities opening State Schools once more.
27. Labour will scrap George Osborne’s “Shares for Rights” scheme that has opened up a tax loophole of £1 billion .
28. Labour will launch a full public inquiry into blacklisting.
29. Labour will ensure Water Companies place the poorest households on a Social Tariff that makes it easier for them to pay their Water Bills.
30. Labour will double the tax duty on Pay Day Lenders and will use the additional £13,000,000 that raises to help foster more Credit Unions.
31. Labour will impose a cap on the cost of credit, setting a limit at which Pay Day Lenders can charge borrowers.
32. Labour will regulate food labelling to simplify pricing so that Supermarkets cannot con customers.
33. Labour plan to introduce a Bill that would ban Recruitment Consultancy firms from only hiring abroad & ban firms from paying temporary workers less than permanent staff.
34. Labour would set up a Financial Crime Unit, with increased staffing, in the Serious Fraud Office to enable the SFO to pursue bankers who break the law.
35. Labour will break up the banks, separating retail banking from investment banking.
36. Labour will scrap Police Commissioners.
37. Labour will introduce a Forces & Veterans Bill of Rights to build upon the Military Covenant.
38. As a minimum measure, Labour will at least cut Tuition Fees by 33%.
39. Labour will introduce measures to prevent corporate tax avoidance.
40. Labour will also increase the Bank Levy by £800m a year.
41. Labour will scrap the Profit Tax Cut (Corporation Tax) that George Osborne has already announced for 2015.
42. Labour will scrap Cameron’s “Gagging” Act.
43. Labour will ensure all MPs will be banned from receiving any income from corporations after 2015.
44. Labour will tackle the abuse and exploitation of migrant labour that undercuts wages.
45. Labour will extend their 2002 public interest test to protect us from exploitative multinational takeovers

Sunday, June 15, 2014

UNISON NDC14 - LGPS Members "time to govern your own money" fringe

Next week is the UNISON National Delegate Conference (NDC). On Wednesday 18 June 2014 at 5.15pm in Syndicate room 2, Brighton Centre, there will be a UNISON Capital Stewardship fringe.

This conference fringe is called  "Local Government Pension Scheme - time to govern your own money".

A certain UNISON NEC member and LGPS rep called John Gray will Chair/Speak at the meeting. The UNISON National officer for Capital Stewardship, Mr Meech, will be there and one "other" speaker.

"In April 2015 scheme members will start to make key decisions about how and where their money is invested. UNISON has won a historic concession from the Coalition government.

50% of seats on the new LGPS boards will be made available to trade union scheme members.

The fringe meeting will discuss and debate the reforms to LGPS governance, what it means for the union and for union members who want to become pension fund reps, to discuss the organising programme to support this work.

The LGPS has 100 pension funds with a collective asset value of £160bn."

The State of London?

Hat tip tweet from new Forest Gate Councillor, Rachel Tripp, for this picture of an advert for the "State of London Debate 2014". 

This "debate" will be hosted by right wing radio presenter Nick Ferrari and feature Tory London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

As Rachel aptly put it  in her tweet

"The 'state of London'? I cannot imagine an image which represents London less than this one". 


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Newham Council AGM 2014

On 5 June 2014 the formal Newham Council Annual General Meeting took place in the Old Town Hall in Stratford. 

This is the nearest thing we get to a little bit of pomp and circumstance in Newham. The main hall is pretty magnificent and of historic importance to the Labour family movement.

It was in this hall that Keir Hardie was elected the first ever independent Labour Member of Parliament in 1892.  The first ever Labour controlled Council gained power in 1898 in West Ham (West Ham and East Ham Councils merged to form Newham) and the Party has dominated the Council ever since.

On May 22 I was re-elected as a Labour Councillor together with 59 Labour colleagues and Executive Mayor.  Labour Party took 68% of the vote in Newham.

No opposition Councillors were elected which is a humbling sign of the loyalty and support for Labour locally but also a huge responsibility on us to make sure that we do our very best for all residents during what will be a time of vicious government budget cuts.

Friday, June 13, 2014

UNISON NDC14 - International rally and reception (and events)

Next week is the UNISON National Delegate Conference. The international relations sent out the following information for delegates.

"If you are going to NDC next week you may be interested in some of the international activities that have been planned. We will have visitors from Swaziland and Colombia as well as the general secretaries of PSI and EPSU.

One of the big debates at conference will be on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed free trade agreement between the EU and US, that could be disasterous for public service and for UNISON members if the agreement goes through. 

Part of the reason for this is that TTIP wants services to be opened up to competition, wants ‘harmonised’ regulations (which means getting rid of a lot of hard-won rights we enjoy in Europe) and wants an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) incorporated into the agreement which gives corporations to right to sue goverments if their ‘interests’ are threatened. 

This has already happened in Ecudor, and in Australia where tobacco giant, Philip Morris, are suing the government because plain cigarette packaging means they will sell less cigarattes which in turn harms their ‘interests’ (ie profits). If you want to know more watch this very short video or listen to this interview

FYI War on Want are planning a national tour and day of action on TTIP – check to see if there is one near you.  

Rally and Reception
This year the rally and reception will take place on the same evening. The rally will start at 7pm on Monday evening in syndicate 3, followed by the reception at 8.30. Delegates will have an opportunity to hear about developments in Swaziland and Colombia as well as hearing about European-wide issues, all of which impact on us here. Dave Prentis will also address the rally. The guests and NEC international committee will attend the reception directly afterwards to chat to delegates.

On Tuesday lunchtime there is a fringe on TTIP. Speakers include the general secretary of EPSU and Polly Jones who is now head of policy and campaigns at the World Development Movement..

There are also fringes on Cuba/Venezuela, Palestine (NEC member Helen Jenner will be speaking about her visit to Palestine) and Colombia over the course of the week.

Conference business
Before the international debate starts on Thursday morning, there will be a photo stunt (P&C for now)

Rosa Pavanelli, the general secretary of PSI, will address conference on Thursday morning as the international speaker.

There are also a number of international motions on the agenda including, TTIP, Colombia, Palestine and Bhopal.

With best wishes

Abbey Gardens Summer Party - Saturday 14 June, 1-4pm

This is a late post for a fantastic West Ham ward Community Garden event.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Fair Tax" is the New Sexy "Fair Trade"

Recently Richard Murphy, the respected "anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert", spoke to a Business meeting of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) about the "Fair Tax Mark" campaign he has helped found.

"The Fair Tax Mark is the label for good taxpayers. It is for companies and organisations that are proud to pay their fair share of tax"

Richard told us that the issue of "tax" has become sexy in the UK and elsewhere. In the last 5 years the general public "has got it". It now beats the level of director pay as a top issue of public concern.

Tax is also now a core governance agenda. Tax avoidance creates an investor risk since boycotts by consumers who have no choice but to pay their own taxes impacts on on cash flows and makes business valuations uncertain. The "Fair Tax Mark" was started in  Feb 2014. It is UK based and rates company that don't avoid taxes - a better risk for investors.

Proper transparency and disclosure of tax policy, risk and liabilities is key.

I asked a question about what was the economic cost to Amazon for being exposed as cheating on its taxes. Richard said he did not know but pointed out that Npower had lost significant numbers of valuable customers when they were exposed by the Daily Mirror for avoiding £100 million of tax by having  a head office in Malta. Also even John Lewis Partnership has been damaged since it will not disclose what it does with its accounts in the Isle of Man.

One of my favourite quotes is from the American Supreme Court Judge, Oliver Wendall Holmes, who said "I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilisation.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

West Ham Labour Women’s Forum Inaugral Dinner - Wed 18 June 2014

"West Ham Women’s Forum is hosting a dinner for Labour women, friends and supporters with guest speakers Dawn Primarolo MP, Deputy Speaker, and Lyn Brown MP, Shadow Communities Minister.

As well as lots of great food and conversation there will be an auction and raffle (with 25% of proceeds going to charity).

When: Wednesday 18 June starting at 6.30pm

Where: Eat16, St. Luke’s Community Centre, 87 Tarling Road, Canning Town, E16 1H (near Canning Town station)

Guests will be greeted with sparkling wine or orange juice and canapes, before sitting down to a dinner of grilled salmon or vegi frittata with new potatoes or spring salad followed by a dessert of sherry trifle or fresh fruit salad.

Tickets are just £18 until 18 June by contacting Rania on 

Please let us know if you have a donation for the raffle or auction.

We look forward to seeing you there. But just to be absolutely clear, and sorry male comrades, this is a women only event". Hat tip West Ham Labour

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Candidate for Newham Mayor Kamran Malik jailed for six months

"Mr Kamran MALIK, age 47, managing director of K.M. Legal Advisory, Romford Road, London, was sentenced today (5 June 2014) to six months' imprisonment by the Westminster Magistrates' Court on for illegally providing immigration advice and services.

Malik is the leader of the Communities United Party and stood for election in 2012 for a seat on the GLA and recently for election as an MEP.

The Immigration Services Commissioner, Suzanne McCarthy, prosecuted Malik after receiving various complaints about his activities.

In sentencing, District Judge Ikram said, "Your activity certainly had the hallmarks of exploitation. You exploited the vulnerable and demanded more money. These offences are so serious that I cannot deal with this by any other way than an immediate custodial sentence."

Speaking about the decision, Suzanne McCarthy said, "The OISC is here to ensure that people seeking immigration advice are treated fairly by people they can trust. We have clear standards outlining what we expect in terms of the fitness and competence of regulated advisers. Mr Malik chose to operate outside the law.  I am delighted with the outcome of this case, and I hope it sends a clear message to other people considering providing immigration advice - either act within the law or you will find yourself in court."

Britain Needs A Payrise: TUC national demonstration 18 October 2014

"Join us for a march and rally in London on 18 October 2014, to help call for an economic recovery that works for all Britons, not just those right at the top. BRITAIN NEEDS A PAYRISE!"

Monday, June 09, 2014

One Housing Strike in Support of victimised trade union rep Bryan Kennedy

This lunchtime I went to support the strike picket line outside One Housing Group headquarters in Camden, London.

The local Unite trade union conveyor, Bryan Kennedy, for One Housing Group is suspended and on 20 May he had a Gross Misconduct hearing. He is still waiting for an outcome!

His members believe that these allegations are simply nonsense and One Housing Group is victimising Bryan for his trade union activities because he helped organise strike action last year to try and defend low paid members facing pay cuts.

One Housing has of course got form for sacking trade union reps. See on left of collage a poster organised by UNISON in 2009 for senior steward Debbie Cordrey, who was sacked by One Housing Group for sticking up for her members.

A large number of London trade union activists,  MP's and Councillors think that One Housing is a pariah who is damaging the wider reputation of all Housing Associations. Note pictures in collage of Labour Councillors and London Assembly members, who have attended lobbies in support of Bryan. 

Housing Associations are dependent upon public money and many are very badly run and we cannot tolerate such fundamental governance failures and abuses.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Downham Essex Walk, the Peasants Revolt and the 1826 General election

Off message-ish but today (Sunday) went for a beautiful 7.5 mile walk in the empty and big sky Essex countryside.

This free EssexWalks.Com circular route started near the 15th Century St Margret's Church in Downham. It took less than 50 minutes to get there by car from Newham.

It was relatively hilly (by Essex standards) and mainly along ancient fields, green lanes and tracks.

I have never walked through so many glorious fields full of wild flowers and golden buttercups.  The bird song for nearly the entire route was constant and at times deafening.  In places there were fluttering butterflies and tiny fast moving blue dragonflies.

At the magnificent Hanningfield Reservoir we stopped off at the Essex Wild Life Trust and saw Mr Toad and his friends.

Had (very unusually) a couple of encounters with snotty landowners, who don't know how privileged  they are compared to the rest of us living in such a quiet and gorgeous part of the world. This is the only walk I can remember in recent times to have seen no other walkers on footpaths and green lanes.

On the downside, there was about half a mile of walking along a road and a number of footpaths with greedy horses who looked upon us as providing their dinner and who needed to be persuaded otherwise.

As always, I love finding out about the history of an area where I go walking. Essex Walks mentioned that "Just over a mile to the west of the village (Ramsden) lies Norsey Woods, one of the gathering points for marchers who joined the Peasant's Revolt. The revolt was a reaction to a tripling of the poll tax from one groat in 1377 to three groats in 1381.

This was widely seen as unfair, and after some isolated rebellions in Fobbing and in Brentwood, a mass uprising occurred resulting in thousands of armed men marching from the Kent and Essex countryside to London, to demand fairer treatment.

It is not known whether men of Ramsden took part in this revolt; but we do know that 4 men from Ramsden and Downham went to the local fees office and destroyed the manorial roles, which were used to collect the hated tax".

Also another site names all the local Downham workers who voted in the 1826 General Election. Surprisingly the right to vote in this area was given to (male only) farm labourers unlike most of the rest of the Country. However there was widespread bribery and corruption with the candidates who spent the most on brides, free drinks and travelling expenses ending up winning.

This is now one of my favourite Essex walks. Recommended. Check out other photos on Facebook

Saturday, June 07, 2014

"Women & Power in Europe" Compass in Newham debate 24 June 2014

This looks really good but I have a union clash in the evening so not sure if I can make it. I only know Newham Councillor Farah Nazeer, who is an intelligent and thoughtful speaker.

The meeting is being Chaired by former Newham Councillor Graham Lane, whose excellent book "How Different Governments Have Weakened Local Government and Democracy" I have recently finished reading and will post upon soon.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Keep the Faith (with LABOUR)

The ideology of the Tories this country can no longer savour
All I ask is that you keep the faith with LABOUR
It is the ‘ordinary’ people they will always represent
Or perhaps the extraordinary is what I really meant

For the 99% can do so much better not worse
Please read the wise words in the following verse

Labour represents social justice and the plight of others
Stand beside us united as sisters and brothers
Working class people are joining Labour again
Recognising the urgent need for them to be in NO.10

It is obvious the non-labour left are going nowhere
So join us today and show that you truly care

Listen to what Ed Milband has to say
Don’t be influenced by the propaganda of the day
He has integrity is honest and decent, he has a great plan
He understand the needs of every child, woman and man
Labour will do all they can to sort out this mess
Build more houses, reduce tuition fees and save the NHS
They will also scrap bedroom tax and the gagging act
Introduce the 50p and mansion tax, that is a fact

They will be rid of firms like Serco , G4s and ATOS
Target zero hours and employers who don’t give a toss
Join the activists that are determined to fight
For policies that are after all our human right
Labour are the only party that will do it for you

For a left and equitable political and humane view
Ignore the dirty politics the hype and the spin
To not be involved in your own future is surely a sin
Get behind your local labour candidates support their cause
Do whatever you can, to open up those closed doors
Keep the faith, be the change you want to see
Be assured of a better place to live for you and me…

Hat tip ©Suzi@politicalsanity 2014 via Sue Jones on Facebook.
Picture Ed Miliband "Today I met Mark Radley who served on the same ship as my dad during the D-Day landings. He and my dad were only 19 and 20 years old when they set sail for France. We must never forget the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought fascism for democracy during the Second World War:"

Thursday, June 05, 2014

What is CDC? (and will it be contagious?)

Apologies for the tabloid style headline, but in the Queen's speech yesterday, she announced that the Government is looking to introduce Dutch style "Collective Defined Contribution" pensions (or CDC).

For the 99% of the population who don't have a clue about CDC (or pensions generally) please click on this link to a post by Nigel Stanley, in the TUC Touchstone site "What are CDC Pensions and why are they a good thing". 

For another alternative view see Michael Johnson's post for the Centre for Policy Studies called "Collective DC: the least worse option". 

Hat tip picture "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh.