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.