Monday, January 31, 2022

UNISON NEC: Damaging action behind TFRC rhetoric


Kate Ramsden is a respected member of the UNISON NEC and is known for being fair and independent minded.  This is what she thinks about the present NEC "leadership" who call themselves the "TFRC". 

"This is my piece on the UNISON Active blog about the current leadership of the NEC. Sometimes it’s just important to nail your colours to the mast and I am dismayed, angry and yes, really disappointed at what is going on and also at the disingenuous way it is being portrayed by TFRC.

I won’t lie - it has been a profoundly depressing experience attending meetings of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) this year.

Just when the pay, conditions and safety of women, many of them low paid, who make up almost 80% of our members, and who have been the heroes of Covid, should have been centre stage at NEC meetings, we have seen the unedifying spectacle of our Time for Real Change (TFRC) leadership instead spending hours debating internal wrangling.

Instead of promoting equality and diversity, TFRC has replaced most committee chairs with white men. Instead of debating and confronting the challenges of building confidence in the Local Government pay ballot, we have had to sit through engineered attacks on staff and the undermining of our own democratic processes for changing rules.

Despite TFRC’s fine words like “member led” and “union democracy”, I cannot for the life of me see where the interests of our members are being served. Their stated aims may seem to be something we can all sign up to, but what I am witnessing is the self-serving and damaging action behind that rhetoric. 

We all want better pay for our public service workers; and better funding for the NHS, local government and other public services. We all want a member led union, with greater lay democracy, an end to discrimination towards all equalities groups and to challenge the hostile environment for our migrant workers and refugees. We all want a more equal, socially just society. I and most of the activists I know have been working for that for most of our adult lives through our union and political activism.

However, look beyond the snappy catch phrases, and you realise that you don’t actually know what it is TFRC want to do in our union to achieve these ends for our members. That, to them, a “lay led” union doesn’t mean respecting the rules and policies that come from the National Delegate Conference, voted on by our lay membership. That it doesn’t mean finding out what our members want and finding ways to organise and engage with them in partnership with the elected General Secretary and the staff.

I have been an NEC member for almost five years. Like others of my Scotland NEC colleagues, I am unaligned with any faction. We have challenged the previous NEC leadership, and we have won, through argument, NEC agreement to look at some of the processes to make them more transparent. All the while I have had the interests of the members in Scotland at the forefront of my mind, especially women members and especially the low paid women who have been on the frontline of dealing with COVID.

When the leadership of the NEC changed, I hoped that we would see some changes for the better; that it might allow for a more open, transparent and inclusive leadership, where everyone’s contribution was valued and where we could all work together for the benefit of our members, finding ways to genuinely engage all our members with their union.

We had our new General Secretary, Christina McAnea, and despite the hype from some, I am clear that she is not a “continuity” leader. I had hoped that the NEC could work in genuine partnership with Christina and the staff, to address the criticisms of the past, a process which, in my view had already begun.

I was doomed to bitter disappointment. Things are going from bad to worse, with most of the same tactics so vehemently criticised by the TFRC in the past, now embraced by the new faction. We see the same building of power bases and cliques, excluding those with expertise who don’t align themselves with the TFRC faction.

We see attempts to undermine the very lay democracy that TFRC purports to espouse, with the passing of motions which two out of three legal opinions advise are in breach of UNISON rules; and worst of all, we see the bullying and harassment of staff. We have become like the very employers we most criticise, with constant threats to staff of being sued for non-compliance.

So although the rhetoric has been all about getting back to being a member led union, there is precious little evidence that the “members” referred to are more than the TFRC members on the NEC. There is precious little evidence that the TFRC faction is making any attempt to start where our members are and build from there. Our very poor turnout in the Local Government pay ballot would surely tell us that.

Those of us who have followed the outcome of ballots in the years since the latest (anti-) Trade Union Act know that smaller, targeted ballots have a much higher chance of meeting the 50% threshold for strike action. We know that we are still a long way from building members’ confidence for wide-scale action, particularly after two years of COVID. We know that members care about pay, that they are angry, but also that many are not in a place to vote for strikes or to trust in collective action. These are arguments still to be won by patient organising and engagement.

What we need is an organising agenda that is inclusive of the whole of the leadership including those with different affiliations or none and in partnership with the General Secretary and staff. There is such excellent work done by staff to further UNISON’s policies agreed at NDC and huge amounts of knowledge and expertise amongst both staff and lay members.

But that is not what is happening and it is a massive opportunity missed. What I see is the NEC lay leadership pushing its own agenda because it can. What I am witnessing is much worse than what went before, especially when you look at its treatment of the staff and its cavalier attitude to our union’s rule book.

I don’t know who said “Power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Was it one of George Orwell’s pigs? Anyway it feels to me that this is what we are seeing here.

Instead of taking the opportunity to engage with the whole of the NEC to make the arguments for what they are trying to achieve and how it will benefit our members; instead of listening to dissenting voices and countering them with coherent arguments and genuine debate, TFRC has chosen to railroad through decisions by strength of numbers.

It’s both arrogant and divisive. It makes no effort to take the rest of us with them and it leaves us feeling powerless to represent our members’ interests. That has never happened before, and when it is the self-described “left” faction that is taking this approach, you have to ask whose interests they are serving.

Kate Ramsden

Sunday, January 30, 2022

View from my seat: Hollingbourne & Thurnham Pathfinder Walk


Gill and I went on this amazing walk today in the North Downs. Hollingbourne is about 1 hour drive from Newham (also accessible by train). It is a 8 mile circularly walk from the "Kent Walks" Pathfinder Guide

I would get the latest version of this guide since the right of way has been changed a little. Better still, subscribe to the online Ordnance Survey Map service  which is a little annoying at times, but tells you where you are in real time and not were you think you are. 

The first half of the walk is really easy, along level quiet country roads and paths. There was some low level road noise from the M20 but it would have been hypocritical of me to complain. Apart from the odd car and cyclist we did not see a soul on the first part of the walk. 

There was however a fairly steep climb up to the North Downs Way, where there was more walkers (but not that many). 

The views from the top of the North Downs were simply magnificent. The cold blue skies and sunshine helped but this was the best walk I have been on for ages. There are lots of ups and downs, and you definitely need decent footwear and warm clothing. 

We had to get back home for a Tesco delivery so did not stop off for a drink at the "Dirty Habit" but it looked like a great pub with a fantastic menu. 

Check out further photos on Facebook

Saturday, January 29, 2022

LoveE15 Community planters & West Ham Ward Labour Street Surgery

This morning West Ham Ward Councillors (myself, Charlene and John W) met with local residents and Newham Council officers to support and help out with filling Community planter boxes. 

It was brilliant to see so many residents giving up their Saturday mornings to improve their local environment. 

After carrying a bucket of soil and then some Victorian bricks to help weight down a new planter box (which had been already been moved by someone to allow them to park on the footway) the politicos went off to carry out a street surgery nearby. 

We knocked on residents doors and introduced ourselves and asked if they had any concerns about Newham Council that they wished to discuss with us. 

I picked up some important case work but the overwhelming response ( I only had one "Against" out of 27 contacts) was very positive. 

Afterwards we stopped off at Sawmills café for coffee and which provided our young pioneer volunteer with her favourite chocolate brownies.  

Friday, January 28, 2022

InUNISON - "There for you" winter fuel fund opens on 31 January


Check out the new site (which is run my members for members) for my post on member applying for winter fuel grants. 

"One of the very best things about UNISON is the practical solidarity that members show for each over, by raising money for our hardship fund "There For You"

On 31 January "There for You" will be launching its "Winter Fuel" grants programme. The fund will offer grants of up to £200 and is designed to help the union’s most vulnerable low-income members.

Our current Tory Government under Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has allowed energy prices to shoot up completely out of control. While "There for You" cannot help everybody suffering from fuel poverty it will make a difference to many members and their families.

Due to low pay in public services we have thousands of our members who will be eligible, so please also ask your branches to make sure they get this information out to members and they apply as soon as possible (as funds are limited)

Will I be eligible?

  • You must be a UNISON member and have paid at least four weeks subscriptions at the time of applying;

  • you do not have savings of more than £1,000, which includes rolling bank balance;

  • only one application per household will be considered;

  • you/your partner are responsible for household fuel bills.

And either …

you are on a low income:

  • for a single person, this means under £18,200 per annum/£350 per week;

  • for a family this means under £26,000 per annum/£500 per week.

Or …

you are in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • housing benefit;

  • universal credit.

For further information and how to apply click on this link

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Holocaust Memorial Day: Portraits of last remaining UK survivors unveiled


Check out this
BBC report on the these powerful but poignant portraits of UK death camp survivors on display at the Queen's Gallery to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Newham Fabians - Active Design: Building Healthier Cities (Thursday 3 Feb)

I have just signed up for this event here (open to all)

How can we design a healthier, active built environment?

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us,” said Sir Winston Churchill in his speech to the meeting in the House of Lords, October 28, 1943.

A University of Cambridge study found that about 676,000 deaths in Europe each year were down to inactivity and eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality rates by nearly 7.5%.

People have the power to design our built environment. But how we design our homes and cities can also have power over us, from our health to how we socialise.

How can we design a healthier, active built environment?

Come join us as we find out!

On Thursday the 3rd of February Newham Fabians will be joined by:
  1. Kris Sangani, London Cycling Campaign Trustee and former coordinator for Redbridge LCC,
  2. Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader of Waltham Forest Council, and
  3. Prof Catherine Thompson, Professor of Landscape Architecture.

This event is free to attend.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

inUNISON - Be A Disabled Workers' Ally


This is another great post in the blog  by Carole Jones. A 2 minute read. is a new blog "for unison members by unison members". 

"I’m not a disabled member, so it’s hard to imagine just how frightening and isolating the pandemic has been for our members who live with underlying conditions, whether that’s a matter of physical health or mental health.

That’s why I think UNISON’s Year Of Disabled Workers couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I also think it is important to consider how members without disabilities can be good allies and work alongside disabled workers to ensure they enjoy equal pay, conditions, accessibility, and health and safety in the workplace.

Being an ally is an important way of working, as it does not deny the humanity or agency of disabled workers, but shows a willingness to listen to and respect what disabled workers prioritise as their needs.

We should never be in the position of telling members what they want. Too many confuse loudhailers and sloganeering with leadership, failing to understand that it is the honest work of talking wiith members and listening and working together to agree plans and objectives that is needed.

So, how do you become an ally of disabled workers?

Educating yourself is an essential first step. That doesn’t mean having to learn everything you can about disease, illness, and injury! It does mean learning about your employer’s policies and practices as regards disabled workers, and whether they meet the needs of disabled workers. If not, ensure this matter gets on the negotiating agenda.

Reaching out to disabled workers is also an essential move. If you already have a disabled members branch self-organised group, that’s great - but have you spoken with them about their needs and priorities? Can the branch do more to support the growth of the SOG? Does the branch ensure members are aware of the group’s existence and how to contact them?

If you don’t have a disabled members’ branch group, why not ask a regional or national disabled SOG speaker to your branch committee or branch meeting to talk about how disabled workers can be supported to get organised?

There are some important things you can do on an individual level, too: consider your own beliefs and actions - do they support disabled workers in the best way or are there some underlying prejudices you need to eradicate?; speak out and challenge anti-disabled prejudice; help amplify the voices of disabled members on social media by liking and sharing their contributions, etc.

Become an ally!

UNISON has produced a range of resources for use in helping to celebrate and organise around the Year of Disabled Members, available at"