Sunday, 21 December 2014

Well done Manchester UNISON!

I am preparing a separate report of the UNISON NEC meeting on 3rd December 2014 but here is a short report of the discussion at that NEC meeting of the aftermath of the debacle around the Local government pay dispute and the special conference that has been called after the initiative of the Manchester UNISON branch successfully reached and surpassed the 25% of Service Group membership threshold required.

We were told the Standing Orders committee (SOC) were meeting the following day to organise the conference.  Various left NEC members decried the fact that for the vast majority of our members the settlement did not achieve anything more than the 1% original offer. Also that the reason why members join a union is to defend their terms and conditions or seek improvements to them. We could not sustain on the basis of us being good lay lawyers defending members at disciplinaries and grievances especially with the lack of employment protection - we needed collective bargaining.

One NEC member of a more right wing persuasion said that we had to accept that we are not able to pull off national strike action anymore. This was rightly countered by one of the North West NEC members who said it would be a disaster if this view was put into practice as it would leave us prey to the worst employers. Another NEC member said it was not true that there had been a sell out because of the Labour Party as some branches in the North West were saying. I stated that the poor outcome of the dispute needed to be a cause for reflection for us - members needed to know the union is serious in fighting to defend their living standards and this affects how members see the union and its relevance, there were strongly held views in the North West that this outcome does no credit to the union.

Under the General Secretary's report the NEC formally endorsed the approval of the special Local Government conference although this was a formality as it is a rule book requirement with the necessary 25% being passed.

There will be a debate around the circumstances surrounding the calling off of the strike action on 14th October 2014. Also future pay consultation and protocols will be discussed. A debate will take place on the best means to achieve a pay increase for Local Government members and there would be consideration of all motions from branches and Regions.

There would be ' a very open discussion of what went wrong and how we could improve things'. Conference would be a closed conference which was agreed by the NEC the main reason being the nature of the business. This was due to the provisions of the lobbying act. The timetable for this conference with motions and amendments to motions meant that the conference would likely take place in late March or early April. Self organised groups and the Service Group Executive would be able to submit motions and amendments in accordance with Rule.

So congratulations to Manchester UNISON - there is now a positive focus for Local Government branches after the pay debacle and I will blog again on this as the issues for debate emerge further.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Stop TTIP!

This week I attended an excellent public meeting about TTIP – the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ at the UNISON North West Regional centre in Manchester, chaired by the UNISON Regional Convenor, Angie Rayner and featuring John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want and Lynne Morris from UNISON North West. 
Sold as a ‘Trade deal’, TTIP is shrouded in opaque and purposefully incomprehensible language but TTIP is an important issue we need to know about.

TTIP is a trade deal that is currently being negotiated in secret by the EU and US.  TTIP involves an attempt to harmonise regulations between the EU and US.  This would cover important safeguards on health and safety, food, environment, privacy and labour standards. The effect would be to level down not up. This is a further continuation of the politics that has sought to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich and hand more power to the super rich over the last few years - Only TTIP would take it much further.  
A key proposal under TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS).  ISDS would allow transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from government action.  Where trade agreements with ISDS arrangements are already in place, multinational companies are using them to try to overturn the decisions of national governments:

·         Phillip Morris (the tobacco company) is suing the Australian government for its decision to introduce plain package cigarettes. Phillip Morris argues that having their name removed from their product is a “threat to their business”.  

·         The French based multinational company Veolia, are suing the Egyptian government for increasing the national minimum wage – claiming this will “hurt” its investment.

·         A Swedish energy company is suing the German Government for closing nuclear power stations that it operates. 
Under TTIP, the proposal is that the ISDS tribunals (in effect kangaroo courts) will be heard by corporate lawyers, who can take decisions against governments without a right of appeal. This is a serious threat to our democracy.

The EU’s own research indicates that the introduction of TTIP would cost 600,000 European jobs.  TTIP is billed as being good for the economy – but it is big business that would gain, not workers.
Over 1 million people have signed a petition against TTIP in the European union already and momentum is building around this campaign which is a very important one to win. In this country predictably David Cameron has said we need to ‘put a rocket booster under TTIP’. We need to increase our efforts to oppose TTIP and if you are a Trade Unionist you can invite a speaker on TTIP to a union meeting. We should also use the power of social media to spread the word about TTIP. We have defeated proposed agreements like TTIP before (the multilateral agreement on investment 15 years ago) prior to the social media age. We need to put pressure on our elected representatives, our MPs and ask questions of them over TTIP so this moves up the political agenda.





Friday, 28 November 2014

Development and Organisation (D&O) sub committee of the NEC 19/11/14

Report of Development and Organisation (D&O) sub committee of NEC 19th November 2014

We received a Recruitment and Organising report from the Head of Strategic Organising – despite the overall difficult picture due to austerity and Government policy it appears the dispute in Health had put on members for the union. (Which is no surprise as the biggest spikes in membership have historically been when the union has been giving a lead to fight for members.) More than 50% of new members now join online. In schools we are still recruiting more than we lose overall. More young people are joining.

John Jones UNISON NEC member asked was is it possible to produce a gender split for Service Groups recruitment figures.

We received an online demonstration on the Organising space – available to staff and activists an online resource for ‘building relationships, sharing knowledge, learning and experiences’. It was asked if an ‘idiots guide’ on how to use this resource step by step could be sent to branches.

We received a presentation on the ‘Private contractors database and organising toolkit’. One of the Assistant General Secretary’s stated that this would be useful as we don’t share information across the union enough. An example was given of how we could collate data on company director’s political links to potentially expose jobs for the boys etc. This information could be used at local level.  This should be a useful resource. The point was made by myself and others that any database is only as good as the data it hold as any snapshot can quickly get out of date.

Under the Learning and Organising report it was stated that there could be big changes to Trade Union education starting September next year. This would depend on the General election and allegedly Labour if elected would look at how they would support Trade Union education but no funding commitment has yet been made.

On ‘Continued development of the RMS/WARMS’ (the UNISON membership system) it was reported that a facility had been implemented whereby join online members can pay via DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at source) once their employer has signed up to the scheme. The proposal is after consultation with Regions the largest 400 employers will be contacted asking them to participate in the scheme.  RMS Operations are also exploring the possibility of Regions hosting a ‘quiet room’ so branches can learn the WARMS (updated UNISON membership system) eLearning platform in a classroom like environment.

Under ‘2015 Budget bids’ a question arose as to whether there was adequate budget provision to meet the costs for the election of General Secretary in 2015 (which is required by rule and law). (The D&O committee receives reports on budget provision for Service Group Executive and National Executive Council elections). The answer was this was not the body to raise this so it could not be answered. The NEC member who raised this Jon Rogers said this would be pursued at the NEC then. 

We received an update on the policy and process for the implementation of disabled members’ use of personal assistants as an equality act reasonable adjustment.

The 2015 National Executive Council election procedures were endorsed which will go to the NEC in December.

We approved a number of applications from branches for Honorary Life membership awards.



Sunday, 12 October 2014

Report of UNISON NEC 8th October 2014.

Rather than reinvent the wheel and doing my own further report here is an abridged version of my good UNISON comrade John Jones, WET (Water, Environment and Transport Service Group) NEC member's report of the NEC held on 8th October 2014 which has been circulated to WET branches:

Obituaries were read out which included former NEC member Carole Horsfield as well as the murdered hostage, Alan Henning.

The General Secretary's report had been moved up the agenda and Dave Prentis covered the need for a Labour Government being returned next May as the alternative was a nightmare.

Labour will allegedly respect pay review bodies and instigate a massive house building programme. They will also restore check off in time if the Tories do away with it which they will if elected next May.

800,000 jobs have gone in Local Government since the unelected coalition came into being but there has only been a 1% drop in UNISON membership which is a fantastic effort. Dave has recently chaired a conference in Washington, USA on TTIP, deregulation and the adverse effects on workers rights.

A suggestion was made for branches to consider entering into service level agreements with employers regarding check off.

There are now some 540,000 UNISON members in the private sector which isn't far short of 50%.

The NEC rightly sent a message of support to the striking Care UK workers who have now taken over 80 days strike action and we agreed that a letter be sent to all branches asking for more donations to sustain and overcome hardship.

It was emphasised that it's very important to get bodies on the streets on 18th October as Britain clearly needs a pay rise.

A further letter of support was also agreed to be sent to our Rotherham Local Government branch which has come under attack including physically in some cases following the recent child abuse cases.

Literature is to be produced outlining what the abhorrent UKIP actually stands for including charging members of the public for GP's appointments.

It was reported that their candidate for the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) position was on duty at both Hillsborough and Orgreave.

Labour have committed to reviewing the ET procedures if elected including doing away with the fees. They have further committed to the disbandment of the Police and Crime commissioners. Dave concluded by praising the efforts in the North West in getting shut of the detestable Nick Grifffin of the BNP.

Under the organising report, it was reported that there has been a welcome 17% increase of young members in 2014 compared to 2013. There is a definite threat from the Tories from August 2015 if they're re-elected to funding for Trade Union education which could have a devastating effect on UNISON and the TUC.

It was agreed however that work needs to be done to ensure online joiners are being correctly allocated from which areas both regionally and a from a service group perspective they emanate.

UNISON is committed to funding political education at both Ruskin and Northern Colleges but a review may well be necessary in due course.

If Unionlearn is disbanded, money will have to diverted from other budgets to compensate which won't be easy.

A questionnaire has recently been sent to branches and replies are urgently needed back.

Written reports were submitted for a number of the Service Group reports section but unsurprisingly, this item concentrated mainly on the forthcoming industrial action in Health and Local Government.

Health are to commence on Monday 13th October with a 4 hour stoppage from 7 am, the first pay strike in 32 years with action short of strike action to follow the following week.

Subject to the NJC not accepting the following day a so called improved offer in Local Government they will be out on Tuesday, 14th October for the full day.

UCU are taking action on the 14th with PCS following suit on the 15th.

UNISON's meat hygiene service members have recently undertaken  2 days of action.

Clarity Is obviously needed in getting members to walk when the need arises. 

Speaker after speaker from the North West was solid. 

A paper was submitted to the NEC which hadn't gone to the previous week's F&RM which in a nutshell means that all subsistence over £30 is taxable so in easy lay terms from Monday 13th October the previously paid £40 daily allowance will be £38 if members attract the normal tax rate of 20 pence.

It is crucial that communications on this development are sent out from the centre as soon as possible but if anybody has paid in advance for future conferences etc. the amounts need altering in line with this guidance. 

A full and comprehensive report was given on private contractors and the fragmented workforce with terms of reference that have been adopted by the inclusive working group which will regularly report its findings to the NEC.
The NEC agreed proposals for the political fund ballot which will run from 1st - 30th November and will be sent out to all branches as a priority stating the need for a YES vote.



Monday, 28 July 2014

NEC - 4th June 2014

NEC 4th June 2014 - This was the last full NEC meeting before National Delegate Conference June 17th -20th 2014.
Cliff Williams, Assistant General Secretary was welcomed back after a long illness as was fellow NEC member Polly Smith after a short but serious illness. Condolences were given regarding those who had passed away since the last meeting including Bill Berry from the North West Region.
No emergency motions had been received to National Delegate Conference (NDC) in Brighton but we agreed a statement against the racist UKIP party and agreed to launch a targeted campaign against them. It was agreed to invite Theresa Griffin MEP to NDC who had recently defeated the abhorrent Nick Griffin of the Nazi BNP in the European elections.
UNISON had recently won a legal victory following being sued in connection with an Israeli speaker being invited by a branch which was then rescinded following checks on his background.
A new TV advert has recently been launched to assist recruitment and retention as part of the ‘Worth it’ campaign.
Dave Prentis in his General Secretary’s report stated that UKIP were a racist, anti public service party there for the wealthy not our people.
I asked that leaflets be sent to branches in good time before the Saturday October 18th ‘Britain needs a pay rise demonstration’ – this could be a very important demonstration with several live disputes ongoing.
We heard that the Local Government pay ballot ends 23rd June 2014. I asked that Industrial action in relation to pay be co-ordinated rather than sectors/service group having to fight on their own.
UNISON Health members would be balloted in August. Details would be finalised at the forthcoming Service Group Executive.
The Meat Hygiene sector may take action in the main BBQ season – August.
All UNISON members of whatever sector and service group were urged to go onto the UNISON website and send a message to their local councillor asking for support for the pay campaign and to keep up pressure over the summer quiet period. The current plan was for 2 consecutive strike days in September if there was no movement from the employers.  
It was stated that the Local Government Association will become Labour controlled from September which might provide more of a response from the employers.  
The Higher Education section of UNISON has accepted an improved offer after 3 days strike.

Coordinated strikes - One of the national officers reported that there would be “punctuated strikes with different sectors, sections out on a rolling programme of action” instead of the coordinated united action we had previously spoken of. There was strong opposition to this as it was felt people felt stronger and remembered the feeling on
November 30th 2011 during the pensions dispute of being all together.

The Doncaster Care UK workers continue their fight and the NEC again offered support to them, to Barnet Local Government UNISON (who have just had a 100% yes to strike vote in similar massive cuts to pay) and anyone else currently in dispute. This includes Unison members at Lambeth college who are joining UCU members on strike.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

I was pleased to be one of the speakers this evening in Manchester at the emergency rally called by Stop the War calling for Israel to stop its attacks on Gaza.

One of the other speakers noted that practically every trade union in Britain supports the Palestinians cause as Trade Unionists recognise injustice when they see it.  The disregard shown by the Israeli military for the humanity of the Palestinian people and the lack of concern shown by the leaders of the Western powers challenge all trade unionists to respond.

UNISON has issued a statement today
- Which also pins the escalation of violence on the illegal occupations by Israel of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and refusal to enter into any meaningful talks on the creation of a Palestinian state.  

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War coalition  have organised a national protest this Saturday 19th July – assemble Downing St. 12 noon.
It would be great to see as many trade union banners as possible at the demo this Saturday.

Elementary internationalism calls for an immediate end to Israel's military assault on Gaza and an immediate end to the blockade and siege on Gaza.
We should also be demanding this of our elected politicians.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Strike day rallies 10th July 2014
Our members are making a stand now on pay in local government and schools.  Pay has fallen by a fifth since 2010. If you are not a Local government member you can still visit a picket line near you to show your support and attend a rally this Thursday.
12:30pm – 1.30pm Rally at Piccadilly Gardens
Chaired by Angela Rayner – UNISON NW Regional Convenor
UNISON Speaker: Sue Glithero – Vice Chair UNISON NW Local Government, National Chair UNISON NJC Committee
10:30am – March assembles at the Pier Head.  Moving off at 11am
12:30pm – 1.30pm Rally at St. George’s Hall Plateau
UNISON Speaker : Glen Williams – UNISON NW Vice President, National Chair UNISON Local Government SGE 
11:00am – March assemble at the Corn Market, Lune Street.  Moving off at 11.45am
12:00pm – 1:00pm Rally at Flag Market
UNISON Speaker : Chris Lomax – Lancashire County UNISON, Chair Preston Trades Council
11:00am – 12:30pm Rally at Town Hall Square
UNISON Speaker : Paula Barker – UNISON NW Deputy Regional Convenor

12.30pm Gather for Rally at the Bandstand.  Speakers from 1:00pm.
Chaired by Dave Armstrong - UNISON NW Regional Organiser
UNISON Speaker: Paul Lloyd – Cumbria Branch Assistant Branch Secretary
My speech to UNISON National Delegate conference 2014 #uNDC14 that didn't get heard (too far down the agenda in the rule amendments debate).

As members of the Development and Organisation (D&O) sub committee of the NEC we are allocated speeches as NEC members on proposed rule amendments by the UNISON Presidential team. This was a rule amendment (D&O committee is responsible for recommending policy on Rule amendments to the full NEC) that was opposed by the NEC and that I was happy to speak against.

Tony Wilson, NEC speaking against proposed Rule amendment 10 which seeks to extend the requirements of nominations for Service Group Executives by changing Rule number D3.5.10.

Currently anyone can be nominated to stand for election to the Service Group Executive and be a candidate if they have been 'nominated by at least one branch from within the Regional Service Group or by a Regional Self organised Group'.

The proposed change would mean that the bar would be pushed a little higher that is to say someone seeking nomination would need either 2 branches from within the Region OR nominations from one branch and one self organised group. It also clarifies that only members within that service group can vote within the self organised group.

At first glance this can seem reasonable, however this could prove problematic for some members of smaller service groups in some Regions. It is possible due to changes and mergers some service groups and sectors only have one branch within a Region. Therefore for someone in that one branch they could only get a nomination if nominated by a self organised group and no service group can guarantee they have members on that Regional self organised group.

The NEC believes an unintended consequence could be that if passed this rule could become unworkable in some areas and restrict democracy in the union by making it harder for candidates to put themselves forward. It can be difficult already for members with the time and energy required to take up higher office within the union. We don't want to make it still harder for members.

We believe as a union it's important for the democracy and participation within the union that ordinary members are encouraged to be part of the top table whether it's the NEC or Service Group Executive. None of us are there by right.

Also it is not the case that that Service Group Executive seats are often contested by multiple candidates.

The process of election to Service Group Executives and NEC can be complicated and we don't want any additional complications.

Conference, the NEC believes this rule amendment if carried could create difficulties for smaller service groups and would be detrimental to the democracy of the union. Please oppose. Thank you.