Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rally focuses attention on UNISON disputes

I was pleased to be one of over 75 people who were in Committee Room 9 at the House of Commons this evening (11 December), at a meeting chaired by the proprietor of this very blog. Attendance included UNISON members from around London and beyond, as well as colleagues from other unions.

The meeting heard speakers giving up to date information on the Fremantle dispute, the victimisation of Michael Gavan and that of Karen Reissman.

It was reported to the meeting by two strikers that members in Karen’s branch who have been taking indefinite strike action are seeking to develop their campaign from industrial to political action, negotiating a return to work in order to resume action around a proposed lobby of Parliament in the New Year. The immediate priority is to maximise political pressure on Health Secretary, Alan Johnson to press for Karen’s reinstatement. He might owe UNISON you would think!

Michael Gavan was able to report that members in Newham are taking a further day’s strike action on 13th December, the day before his interim relief hearing (at which the employer could be ordered to continue with his contract of employment). A rally will place from 11.30am at the Hartley Centre in East Ham. The address is 267 Barking Road, East Ham, E6. It’s five minutes walk from East Ham Town Hall and ten minutes walk from East Ham tube.

The Fremantle strikers, several of whom were at the meeting, are continuing their courageous and innovative campaign against an outrageous attack upon their living standards – they are dealing with the consequences of the same privatisation that Karen and Michael have been victimised for having opposed! Their cause was ably presented by Barnet UNISON Branch Secretary, John Burgess.

The meeting also heard from UNISON activist Malcolm Campbell, speaking in line with the decision of the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Executive, UNISON NEC member, Kate Ahrens and UNISON MP John McDonnell, all of whom offered solidarity to the UNISON disputes which were the focus of the meeting, as did speakers from the floor including Katy Clark MP.

Although the meeting had been arranged “unofficially” (as I have explained elsewhere) it was organised in support of three official disputes. UNISON members in attendance ranged from the very top of our Union to some less exalted. The meeting inspired those present and sent us all out to get on with the work of building solidarity with these important UNISON disputes.

I could embark upon a lengthy analysis of the reasons why it takes such unofficial initiatives to kick start effective Union campaigning – in the mean time I would rather focus on the action that needs to be taken now. This includes lobbying your MP to sign the Early Day Motion; attending the Newham dispute on Thursday; and fundraising to support members in dispute.

In the light of disappointing advice from the Regional Secretary that UNISON cannot provide hardship payments to Michael Gavan, I am one of those prepared to help establish an independent fund outside of the Union if the rules were thought somehow to get in the way.

This evening we took some time to think about how the privatisation policies of New Labour are leading us towards further conflict – we also (I think) gained strength from each other and can build on that strength to improve UNISON organisation and the way in which the official structures of the Union respond to disputes. Hat’s off to the organiser of this evening’s meeting.

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