Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blair Privatises Probation

It is disappointing news that the New Labour Government has won a vote to privatise the probation service, against all the principles which are at the heart of the best of the Labour Party.

I hope that good MPs, like John McDonnell, will keep up the fight for the criminal justice system to remain a public service. Congratulations to all those Labour MPs who put our Party before our “Leader” and voted against the Government’s anti-Labour proposals.

I know that the campaign can count on the continuing support of our comrades in NAPO and wish luck to newly elected Branch Secretary of UNISON’s Probation Branch in the London Region, Georgette Johnson, who will need and deserve the full support of our Union to face the challenge of privatisation. Congratulations Georgette – and good luck!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Care UK and the Scandal of Islington Council

Below is a letter I have submitted to the Islington Tribune in response to an article that was printed in last week’s addition.

To the Editor, Islington Tribune

I was pleased to see the coverage given in last week’s Tribune to the investigation being launched by Islington Council into its contracts with Care UK and the circumstances surrounding the slashing of the wages of staff who work for that company.

I was shocked, I am sure like many other people, to discover the obscene contrast between the salaries and various perks enjoyed by Care UK’s directors and the wages of staff in their Islington care homes, now only just above the legal minimum. This is scandalous enough but there is perhaps a bigger scandal in the way in which the Council has orchestrated the cutting of staff wages behind the scenes.

While the Council has tried to pretend that the cuts had nothing to do with it and that the decision was made by the company, the truth is that the Council’s ruling executive made a secret decision in December, 2005, to give Care UK additional money in order to buy out staff terms and conditions. A key feature of the contract, as originally negotiated, was that the Council continued to top up staff pay so that employees could receive the same wages as when they were working for the local authority. In deciding to give this additional money to Care UK, the Council spotted an opportunity to save itself something like £19 million pounds over 22 years and perhaps also an immediate reduction in the Council Tax.

Islington Unison has however been concerned that the decision to make the payment to Care UK may have breached the Council’s own rules on procurement and was possibly unlawful. And last month we submitted a report to the Council’s Performance Review Committee calling for an independent investigation into the decisions taken by Care UK and the Council. Now the Council has announced that an internal review is to be carried out by the Deputy Chief Executive, Andy Jennings. This means that the Council is investigating itself and I question whether it will do so with sufficient rigour and scrutiny.

The Care UK spokeswoman quoted in your article as saying that the changes to staff terms and conditions ‘will have no effect whatsoever on the balance sheet ‘of the company is largely being truthful. But the whole sorry affair has cost the company more then they originally intended as the money provided by the Council has not in the end covered all of their costs. Care UK representatives told me that the reason they were saving money for the Council was in order to secure ‘future business opportunities’. This is something which I am deeply concerned about because when a company tenders for a Council contract, it should be judged only on the bid it has submitted for that contract, not on business favours it has provided for the Council previously. I hope that Mr. Jennings will be considering seriously the fact that at the same time as Care UK were being provided with the additional money, the Council also awarded them a second contract to run another care home. I am at the end of the day extremely concerned as to the overall propriety of the relationship between the Council and Care UK.

To the list of the directors of Care UK with their accompanying mugshots - as featured in your article - should be added the following list: Stephen Hitchins; Meral Ece; George Allan; Bridget Fox; Arnie Gibbons; James Kempton; Terry Stacy; Jyoti Vaja; Laura Willoughby. All of these people were serving Liberal Democrat Councillors in December, 2005. All were members of the Executive of the Council which made the decision to give somewhere in the region of £1 million to Care UK to facilitate the slashing of staff wages and other conditions. I believe these people have some explaining to do. Perhaps Councillor Kempton could start the ball rolling. He is after all the present Leader of the Council and perhaps he could tell the inquiry how the decision made at the meeting of the Executive was transparent, democratic and lawful. Perhaps he could also explain if in fact the cutting of the Care UK wage bill was intended to help the Liberal Democrats electorally, by allowing them to freeze the Council Tax in 2006 without having to inform the electorate how this had been achieved. The deal done with Care UK remained completely secret until September 2006 and many of the facts still remain unexplained.

Islington’s Liberal Democrat councillors continue to pride themselves on setting one of the lowest Council Tax rates in London. Of course it is an easy thing to do this by making cuts in services like the care homes for older people with mental health problems, where the service users themselves are unlikely to protest. James Kempton and his accomplices would no doubt claim that cutting the wages of staff does not affect the overall quality of the service. But this is just sheer rubbish and in future it will be harder than ever for Care UK to retain and recruit good and suitably qualified individuals. All this just so the Council can pretend it is providing quality services and being efficient!

Andrew Berry
Deputy Branch Secretary

Saturday, February 24, 2007

STW No Trident March

Was very good with people from the platform estimating the attendance at 100k - although I've seen other reports on the web that stwc are claiming 70k? Either way far more than the 10k the police estimated.

By the time I got to trafalgar square and I was at the front of the march with the John4leader, labour against the War and Islington North CLP contingent (including my good comrades Simon Deville Graham Bash and Jaqui Connor) comrades were still waiting to leave Hyde Park corner.

Other comrades/banners I knew and spotted:
Rahul Patel westminster Unison
Tower Hamlets UNISON Banner
T&G region 1
School students against the war
Nick Kirklees UNISON
Somerset UNISON
Tony Staunton UNISON

George and Tammy (unknown conscience)

Jon Rogers and Sean (new contributor here - welcome sean)

Tim Flatman
Mike Rowley
Robin Sivapalan
Sacha Ismail
Mary Partington
Sitara Amin
John Angliss
Angus Hebenton
Jon Millins
Vino Sangrapillai
Sophie Buckland
Will Hands off Venezuala

(And many more that I now can't remember so sorry to all I've missed!)

John McDonnell (the next labour leader ;p) gave a rousing speech that was very well received.

Then time for a quick drink, pizza and home in time for the 10 o'clock news am I getting old???
Or perhaps its just cos the rest of the degenerates wernt there that I didn't go out on the piss all night!

Union backing for John McDonnell

I made a bad joke elsewhere about the names missed off today’s Guardian letter in support of John McDonnell.

The real point is that John has the support of the TGWU Broad Left, the AMICUS Unity Gazette, and the CWU Broad Left – not to mention of course the Executive of ASLEF!

In UNISON we have the support of the United Left and are getting things moving.

John is also getting some positive recognition from the GMB for his support for GMB members in dispute.

So will our Union leaders listen to the rank and file – or continue to harbour illusions in Gordon “Contestability” Brown?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

National demonstration to defend the National Health Service

Good news from UNISON’s Health Service Group Executive – they are calling for a demonstration in defence of our NHS on 30 June. The decision was taken by a clear majority of 16 votes to 6 and provides an answer to those (about whom I blogged elsewhere) who lacked confidence that such a demonstration could be organised.

This is precisely the sort of activity which John McDonnell's campaign for the Labour leadership will help to support - and to which the misconceived project of Michael Meacher is an unfortunate irrelevance.

Letter to Meacher!

Please see below my letter to Meacher - i'll blog any respone I get
If anyone else fancies emailing him

Dear Michael,
I was incredibly disappointed to hear on the news this morning that you had declared that you will stand for Leader of the Labour party. This at a time when you should be getting behind John McDonnell's campaign.

Despite your earlier assurances to me it does seem very much that this is in fact a spoiler campaign - you have launched at a time where John McDonnell's campaign has gathered incredible momentum, hundreds of activists attending meetings re the J4L campaign, he's broken through the media blackout and ASLEF have become the first affiliated union to declare support for John - this on top of the support he has from other unions and affiliated union broad left groups.

It seems that it has been designed to make the most negative impact on the best candidate and opportunity the left has had for years.
This following on from Alan Simpsons declaration last week that there was no hope for the left in the labour party and that among other things is why he was standing down as MP at the next election.

Looks to me that this is a concerted campaign by yourself and Alan Simpson to ruin the left campaign.

I cannot understand how 2 MP's on the left can want to sabotage John's campaign in this way, please explain it to me?

Finally I would ask you to reconsider and abandon this foolish escapade!

Warm Regards

Michael Meacher - Labour's Past?

After months of dithering, seventysomething former Cabinet Minister in Blair’s New Labour Government, Michael Meacher is clambered off the fence and announced he is looking to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party.
I certainly don’t want to see a “coronation” of Gordon Brown – if we let that happen then many affiliated trade unionists in particular will wonder what on earth the point of our relationship with the Labour Party is.
However, Michael Meacher does not offer us a consistent and principled candidate who commands respect amongst the rank and file. His bid for the leadership looks very like a last stand by the old left.
John McDonnell on the other hand is running a campaign for the Labour leadership precisely on the basis of building up organisation within the Party and the trade unions to provide a consistent basis of opposition to New Labour for the future.
Meacher told the BBC he has the backing of more MPs than John McDonnell yet by most accounts Meacher only has the backing of 3 MPs.
John has over 20 MPs with many more likely with all the support of unions and in the grass roots. I suspect if Meacher does get any more than 3 nominations they will be from Brownites who know he'll be easier to beat!
If Alan Simpson had that much faith in him he wouldn't be stepping down! This looks increasingly like Simpson’s sabotage mission - if I'm leaving I'm taking the rest of the left with me. Rather than uniting behind the best left candidate and opportunity we've had for years!
I hope Michael Meacher abandons this foolish escapade!

This is the letter I received from Meacher on the 29th November
Dear Marshajane Thompson

Thank you for your email about the leadership election. My only concern is that the ballot paper for the Labour leadership contest – I have no campaign underway in the deputy leader contest - has on it a candidate from the left. I will continue working to achieve this and, as in the Queen's Speech debate last week, to ensure that the debate is about those policies Labour should adopt - and those it must jettison - to reconnect with members and supporters we have lost since 1997, rather than about who the candidates are.
(since then he has hinted to the plp he wanted to stand in both deputy and leadership because he knows his not going to get as much support as John or leader!)
I have read what you say carefully. I do think that we must be careful not to substitute the strength of support John McDonnell undoubtedly has form some quarters for the width of support that will be required. This is absolutely not about wanting to spoil any left challenge. The overriding political issue today, the danger that could overwhelm much of the planet, much of the human race, if not in our lifetime but certainly in that of our children or grandchildren, is climate change. Labour's Big Change is a campaign to excite the political imagination and galvanise our Party by restoring our commitment to a greater and deeper collective cause which has always been our inspiration.
(this is absolutely about spoiling the leftchallenge anyone with half a brain cell can see Meacher is now just seen as a joke - he is not a credible candidate and will not get 10% of the support John already has. The brownites/blairites will be laughing into there cornflake this morning at the left shooting itself in the foot once again. Well done Michael)

Please look at the link below for more details about this campaign.

Yours sincerely

Michael Meacher MP
House of Commons

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

John Gray - joins the blog world

Lovely to see John (on the left in the picture below!) following mine and Jon's lead and setting up a blog - its a fine way to keep in touch with the members he has been elected to represent.

I would encourage all London Unison Members to have a look and comment on his blog - after all he is there to represent you - not anyone else! (something i'm sure he'll remember)

So welcome to the blogosphere John - and remember not to have too many dig's at me/this blog darling - you have to work with me in our CLP and on UNISON's regional committee :)

I look forward to seeing you at our AGM next week.

Love and Kisses

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Trident Replacement conference - 17/2/07

I attended a conference yesterday on Trident organised by Labour Against the War, Labour Action for Peace and Labour CND. I blogged a fuller report on the SUN blog but what I want to emphasise here is the trade union representation at this conference. Barry Camfield (T&G) and Keith Sonnet (Unison) both spoke about Trident replacement and the position of their respective unions. I was utterly disappointed with both speeches especially with Sonnet.

He spoke about the support at Unison conference regarding the resolution to scrap Trident and that there ought to be a public debate on this. But that was it in regards to the bulk of his speech. Nowhere did he mention the role trade unions can make in mobilising the membership against this obscene waste of £70billion. Instead it was mealy-mouthed, empty rhetoric and very tepid in his criticism.

Barry Camfield was a tad better but he kept meandering and going off on tangents. He mentioned mobilising the membership and how this is an important struggle for the union to take on but again he failed to capitalise on the "how" question. He made good points about members in the T&G who work in the nuclear industry. He also maintained there needs to be an unequivocal policy against nuclear weapons.

Later on in the afternoon Ann Black (Labour NEC member) was critical of the role trade unions have been playing. She reminded us that 51% of LP constituencies in 1997 voted to scrap Trident but the TU block vote defeated it. It does seem that some trade union leaders are playing a double game on this.

I found the speeches from the trade unionists were a let down while speakers from Tony Benn to Christine Shawcroft to Jeremy Corbyn to Walter Wolfgang made impassioned and informative speeches but also emphasised that integral to this was activism and mobilisation. I also found the speaker, Roudabeh Shafie from Campaign Iran one of the most interesting of the day.

Unfortunately, the two trade unionists there on the day weren't as strident as they could be in their opposition to Trident.

(The pic is of Barry Camfield and apologies for the quality as it was taken on my rinky dink mobile phone...)

Last session of the conference

Sunday Morning - an hour workshop on youth movement workshops and then closing address from Jack McConnell MSP.

JM continued the theme of the weekend about Militant wrecking the youth movement and being wary of moving to the left.

He continues though that Young Labour now increasingly represent young people in Scotland and however difficult it is sometimes commenting on some difficult labour policies its a million times better than being in opposition.

The Tories promote greed and selfishness as virtues and when they were in power communities broke down, few opportunities for young people etc now the country under the Labour Party are light years away from the despair of the tory years.

Scottish elections.

We've made huge progress in last 10 yrs and he's most proud of the decision to ban smoking in public places, Scotland is leading the UK in this the most important piece of health legislation
Were using powers of devolution to make a difference.

Scottish Labour party is internationalist in 1995 we reinvigorated our relationship with Malawi not just giving them funding but forging links with TU's, schools, youth groups faith groups and helping them learn skills.

We have a fundemental choice between 1 a Labour led government and 2 a Nationalist government. The best option for scotland is to remain part of the UK. Alex Salmond et al would do everything they can to break up Britain its our job to point out the better road for Scotland.

Daniel Robertson asked this question.

In your speech you say about how now under a Labour Government everyone earns 5.35 an hour compared to 2.50 an hour 10 years ago but if your under 21 you don't.
As Scotlands first minister what are you gonna do for young scottish people in addressing this inequality?

Supports the point but the party has done extremley well gradually incresing the minimin wage, and then getting the balance of it right for young people.

He also mentiones the fact that the Tories think it would bankrupt the economy!

I left then to start my 7 and a half hour drive back to London so missed the other questions.

Overall an uneventful uninspiring weekend.

Although it was great that so many ministers wanted to come and address the youth movement and we have access to them - we needed to be allowed time to debate which we weren't.

Oh well the next one's in 2 years time, by which I'll be too old - but let's hope they take the points that members and the trade unions raised about the levels of democracy in Young Labour and input from delegates into the conference.

(They also need some help organising socials I've never been to such boring after parties! Part of me wishes I'd have stayed in London and attended the UAF conference!)

Saturday Pm @ conference

Started at 1.30 with the hustings for the youth rep on the NEC (the only vote we had all conference)

The delegate that UNISON had nominated withdrew and asked for people who supported her to transfer their vote to Daniel Carden the other union candidate who was seen at the conference as the left wing candidate.

As the UNISON delegation we met and decided that we should vote for Stephanie Peacock as she had performed better at the conference and was more confident. Much was made of the fact that she was honest in her speech about supporting trident and some aspects of state funding but that if young members took a different view then she would represent their views.

Although both candidates acknowledged there was no venue to hold them to account in our current procedures - but that they would both be contactable through there blogs/websites and strive to keep in touch with all members.

Anyway Stephanie won the vote in all 3 colleges - Labour Students, CLP's and TU's and will be our rep on the NEC - I spoke to her afterwards and she will come and meet with UNISON's young members forum in april.

Hilary Benn was our next Guest Speaker and was by far the best speaker of the conference (even though I didn't agree with some of what he said) The support he has amongst Young Labour is considerable and he got 2 standing ovations (1 after his speech and 2 at the end of the Q&A)

Highlights of his speech;
Policy Forums are a more inclusive way of taking decisions as you are able to discuss issues in more detail but we need to do more.

We need your ideas to renew ourselves - young people are always campaigning for the Labour Party your commitment cannot be questioned but we (the party) need to make a real effort to support young members and listen to you.

We need to put aside the patronising views that young people only care about young campaigns like make poverty history, climate change etc you do care about these but also other issues like housing, local communities and crime and justice.

We need to trust you to have serious debates.

We have to ask ourselves why aren't young people interested in party politics.

A first time voter at the next election will have only been just out of nursery when we came into power - they've never known what its like under a Tory Government and see us as the establishment.

He then spoke about the UNICEF report and a report last year that mentioned the fact that most young people don't think the labour party represents their views.

If we are to remain relevant we need to change with society - we need a new relationship with young people and the labour paty.

He wanted to hear what we think the new relationship should be but first would tell us what he thinks.

We need to open up the LP and make it more inclusive even though were in government we can still campaign. We should be hosting debates in communities. He joined the LP to change the world, not the minutes of the last meeting.

We need ringfenced funding for the youth wings of the LP. Even though young people earn less than eveyone else we don't help them financially to come to events like this. We need regional youth activities. Encourage links between young people and the trade unions and work with TU's to recruit young people.

We need to treat young votes with respect we bolt on young peoples campaigns to manifestos when they should be built in. Most importantly we need to talk straight forwardly about the issues.


On his comments about anti war supporters.
HB doesn't lump all anti war supporters in one bracket but he does find it hard to accept that anti war protesters can't see how we should be supporting the democractic government in stabilising Iraq and condemning the insurgents.

He's a passionate believer in UN but we need a UN that works

Adele Reynolds asked a question on Darfur
HB the world was slow to respond but the UK is the second largest aid donor but we need more.
We need a political settlement. We have the darfur peace agreement and need to say to the rebels stop.

On Policy Forums not being effective as they are handed from top down like Trident.
HB agrees its worst politics when policy falls from the sky and we should give a commitment that policy decisons will not be taken without debate in the party.

HB always says abstaining's great for people that want to and can. Fact is humans have sex and like to have sex they shouldn't die because of it and that's why we distribute condoms as part of our program.

Next up was a fawning question on how much we love HB and would he please stand for Labour Leader.
HB says thanks he loves us too but he'll be supporting Gordon Brown.

A few more non questions just fawning over how wonderful HB is.

On BAE and ethical foreign policy.
HB Don't judge our commitment by one case.

I then asked if he would support the proposals set out in the alternative queens speech about controlling sale of small arms being as uk is largest exporter. (Theme of the conference is when they get a lefty question from unison they shout 'Look' at the beginning of answer ;p)

HB Look Marsha countries have a right to defend themselves and we don't sell them if they would be used in internal conflict - most of the small arms that are used in these conflicts are from the former Soviet Union. He then quotes because its in the minds of men wars begin its in the minds of men that peace is implemented.

Cue 2nd standing ovation!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Today so far

I don't no what happened to my post from yesterday - I'll try and find it and republish it cos I'm sure your all dying to see my notes of Hazel Blears speech :) and forgive any typo's in the below - blogging from my blackberry.

This morning was campaigning for the local candidate in Govan - I went to the CFS fringe at 12 to see John McDonnell speak.

Being as were here for youth conference John spoke about issues that Young people have been raising with him.

If you just take one, Housing this has been identified all around the country, the knock on effect of not having a home or to be constantly moving around temporary accommodation and Houses in multiple occupation is that mental health issues in young people are rising , less people going into education, insecurities in young people are rising, young people on the streets leads to ASB - this at the same time as the government are raising peoples aspirations.

If you look at Tower hamlets were you have a lot of people in temp accomodation and homeless yet a stones throw away you have canary wharf with its massive wealth but no chance of getting to it you either end up as the saying goes fight or fright - fighting (leads to crime and ASB) or Fright (depression).

Highlights (if you can call them that) of Alan Johnson's speech.

He started off saying that Labour has the traditional mid term blues but that he was optimistic.
He went onto say about the LRC and Kier Hardie and how Blair is sometimes called anti union by some TU members - but in the LRC program from Keir Hardie called for reform of the House of Lords, a Scottish Parliament, minimum wage all of which have been achieved to some degree by Blair - although there is still some work to go on the HOL.

He went on to say how he was misquoted re his union leaders are on the planet zogg speech of a few years back.

What he said was union leaders have left the planet zogg but some still like to go there for day trips - he goes onto say you had to have been there to understand - the likes of Bob Crow shouting and screaming at the TUC and in the 70's Rodney Bickerstaff continually putting up motions at the TUC on minimum wage that the rest of the unions blocked.

He says himself Brendan Barber Bickerstaff and others decided they needed to leave this behind and that's why we won in 97 and why we now have rights for part time workers, maternity benefits of 9 months soon to be a year no Trade union blacklists , no derecognition of unions etc
He then continues in the theme of the speeches this weekend (anyone would think they felt threatened by some kind of leadership challenge?)

I dont think anyone wants to go back to the 70's - TU movement is integral to our future, its influence should be proportional but considerable (whats that you say AJ 15%??)

He carries on the link to workers in the coalface is invaluable.

The 21st century we will face profound challenges - pensions climate change international security etc

He says we are an internationalist party - All of these challenges have international dimensions and we need to renew our European credentials. "Only the progressive left can advance the European cause"

On education.

He's proud of the "irreversible changes" that we've been able to achieve because of a third term 408% increase on spending in under 5's, introduction of 14- 19 yr old agenda, 15 yr program of rebuilding schools.

On the leadership election

"I do not accept that because of the leadership election we need a review of everything we've done by people who misrepresent the facts" Alan says that he knows this has been a consistent message from Tony Blair and Hazel Blears this weekend. (damn right!) The problem with having a leadership election he continues is that you'll get "hugely difficult internal wrangling" and "its not a crisis that its painted by some" He's worried that a leadership election will give the false impression that the LP is more interested in internal wrangling than the people it represents.

Then we had a Q + A
- on faith schools a question was put on why he backed down in the face of opposition from religious leaders
_AJ I listened to representations rather than backing down - there was serious opposition from Catholic leaders and many of our own supporters. What we did in the end is agree a voluntary aspect.

Someone from Labour Students asked if he'd kept his pledge to speak to the health department about free prescriptions for students on low incomes
AJ - i did speak to them and were still talking but they have other concerns at the moment.

A question was asked (by someone who confessed to supporting him in the DL contest - to which there was a big cheer??? have they been listening to Prentis?) Why he's not standing for leader
AJ 1 I wouldnt win against a very good candidate 2 I dont think i have the ability and 3 we have such a good candidate I don't see the need for an unnecessary contest. Gordon has done very good work and is already seen as the next leader.

On encouraging young TU's to join the LP
As a party in government I think theres truth to what John Mars said that we sometimes view and treat the TU Movement like embarrassing relatives.
We should be proud of our links and history and that we were founded by the TU movement.
But for TU's _ I spent my life saying why dont we adopt a swedish approach were they make sure views are known but they show more solidarity - you get an easy round of applause at some TU meetings if you attack the Government for not doing enough.
A strand of Tu's play to this we need a much better relationship.

Off now to hear Hilary Benn - top stuff!

Yesterday at Conference

Lost most of yesterdays post so you want have all the detail here's a brief overview!

Following on from Tony Blair, we heard from, Jim Murphy MP, Cllr steven purcell (leader of Glasgow) Hazel Blears and Peter Watt.

The first 2 were pretty dire boring speeches Hazel Blears spoke about the threat from the left and not going backwards.

She was asked an excellent question by Eamon " you mention the word socialism 3 times in your speech which is the most of anyone so far - yet in your speech you also say about the threat of a thrust to the left in the forthcoming leadership elections - I was reading Peter Hain in the media today. Was this the leadership candidate you were referring or was you referring to another deputy leader candidate or even the ledership contest between Gordon Brown and ahem Someone else..... (to much laughter)

HB - "no I'm not afraid to say the S word - my socialism is practical politics - enabling people from not so well off backgrounds to get access to education etc.
A lurch to the left would mean us not being prepared to tackle the tough issues. If we shy away from issues we will be seen as the party that shys away from tough issues" (cheers that really clarifies!)

She goes on to say we need to give people the confidence that the labour party will look after them - The business of governemnt is making tough decisions and balancing.

Anne True of my unison delegation asked - given your protest against local health recognition how do you think the ongoing instability in the NHS (caused by PFI etc) will effect Labour's chances at the next election?

HB - in terms of my protest its not about money I completely back the Governnment's policy, it was just about location. They wanted 3 specialist centers and we already have one, we didn't want it moved. I understand why health workers are nervous but as pressures in the system come in changes in waiting times are drastically reduced. We need levels in the system to fulfil our manifesto that no one will wait more than 18 weeks.

Stephanie Peacock (nec youth rep candidate) asked about party funding and said she was in favour of state funding for smaller projects like in youth policy development.
HB - said this was incredibly important we need to have an agreement on restrictions
On spending in campaigns - public doesn't want people to be able to buy seats and she doesn't think state should completly fund parties.

A good point was also made by Ben Foley about the organisation of conference and the 7 w/e hours of plenary sessions with 6 1/2 hrs of guest speakers we need to be taken seriously as a youth movement.

HB because of difficulties in youth movement people are nervous about it. Now young people are realistic and knowledgable we need to let them debate and support you as your youth movement is essential.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Blair in Glasgow

Tony Blair’s speech to the Labour Youth Conference up here in Glasgow didn’t really set the hall alight.
(It was more of a case of how many times can I say change in one speech!)

In relation to the forthcoming elections he says we need unity – I think he means the United Kingdom rather than the Labour Party though?

He says that the most important division is between those who want to be open to the world economy and those who want to be closed, who want protectionism and fear immigration.

Having set up this division Tony predictably says that Labour should opt to be open and not be afraid of globalisation. This is why education is important for the economy and why we must not waste resources on poor education.

We should oppose discrimination because it prevents people realising their potential.

He says that our task – his “third way” – is to take our values of solidarity and apply them differently, using the state to empower rather than control people

What he notices about the past ten years - rather than any single event – is the sheer pace and scale of change - we need to continue this if we want to be a dynamic political party of future.

We need, he says, to constantly change and adapt - which means difficult decisions – as in relation to the NHS and education. (Why on earth does the one thing lead to the other?)

In relation to law and order, Tony tells us that with global terror and anti-social behaviour the problems we face are completely different to those of sixty years ago.

So what is his message to Young Labour – he tells us that he thinks that there can be a conservatism of the left as well as the right (yawn!)

”Small c” conservative policies are dangerous because they become out of date so quickly.

He speaks of the threat of the labour party left going backwards and he sees the left saying “please I don't want change” – when he thinks we need to confront and challenge changes.

The scope of this rubbish is international too! He says we have no future unless we act in alliance with others. Like Europe and America.

If we want to carry on governing we need to carry on changing.

He tells us we are too young to remember the Militant Tendency but warns us that the Young Socialists were taken over by Militant which is why the YS was disbanded.

They got separated, he claims, from what was happening in country as a whole. We need to work out what we'll be in future - he thinks we will not just be traditional labour but a stakeholder party. Our role is going to be very important apparently.

Retaining power, Tony reassures us, is not about sacrificing principles. We have invested in schools, introduced the minimum wage and introduced a lot of positive equalities measures.

Looking back over 10 years in office and 13 year as leader he says that we came to this point because we had determination to change.

We mustn’t return to being comfortable in opposition. We mustn’t go back to our comfort zone as a political party. He hopes that Young Labour and Labour Students are prepared to go out and fight for what we believe in and chart our course through difficult decisions.

He finishes with what is meant to be the stirring thought that progress for humanity is achieved by dedicated people, but I am afraid he thinks progress means privatisation and nuclear weapons.

Then we are privileged to have a question and answer session with our Leader.

He agrees with a soft question from Labour Students – he is in favour of breastfeeding in the chamber (wow!). Though he was a bit flustered and "Right laura yeah breastfeeding go for it".
He thinks we should change the aggressive culture of politics.

A questioner from London Young Labour asks a rather more searching question about a vote on Trident replacement.

Tony says he is very clear in his own mind about what we do but he doesn't disrespect other views. However he claims it would be very difficult to be the only country giving up our nuclear deterrent. He says he has no problem with people voting and having their say (which is reassuring I suppose) as long as they realise that “we have to take a decision as a Government” (hmmmm).

Another less challenging questioner wants to know how we inspire people who have dropped out of education to go back to college. According to Tony, if we expand our membership amongst young people they will go back to education through politics. We need to keep up investment in schools and keep them inspired.

The Chair of Welsh Labour Students asks a better question about what more needs to be done to promote our equality agenda in relation to lesbian and gay rights, particularly in schools.

Tony says we need to complete our program - civil partnerships have been used by thousands. In schools we need to challenge homophobia wherever it happens. By changing culture we now have a situation that even in the Tory party their stance has changed.

James Anthony from UNISON asks about the NHS. Haven’t we replaced a dogmatic belive in nationalisation with an equally dogmatic believe in privatisation? Thanks to PFI our NHS is in crisis

Tony is on the defensive; “Look James, here is problem. The amount of investment has increased dramatically and the number of people employed has increased by 25 to 30 per cent.”

He denies he is dogmatically opposed to public services or in dogmatically in favour of privatisation. He tries to defend PFI by comparing it with the “old way” of building hospitals. He thinks that PFI must be good because other countries are copying it and that we must break down barriers between private, public and voluntary sectors (he says third sector).

He then attacks UNISON policy on independant treatmnent centers - He says we would never have new hospitals without PFI – and he says that Independent Treatment Centres have brought down waiting lists. The important thing about public services according to Tony is to keep our values intact - but we can be flexible about delivery.

A questioner from Leeds Labour Students asks about the Liberal Democrats giving Tony a chance to have a go at the Lib Dems on the grounds that they are not serious. In relation to tuition fees he knows it was unpopular but says it was the right thing to do.

He does love those “difficult decisions”. He doesn’t get so much of the difficulty though. We get that.

Gordon Brown would continue with these unpopular right wing policies and lose us the next election...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lobby for Free travel for Under 18's

Update - nice picture of Paul and his broken umberella :)

I attended SERTUC's lobby of the GLA this wet and rainy morning on free travel for under 18's. I was there from around 8.50 as a represenatative from the TUC Young Members Forum and it was bloody freezing!

Met up with a few good people I know who were also lobbying, Robin, Omar,Ben, Kris, Richard and a few others from LYL and also people I come into contact with in my day job from Youth Parliaments - Lewishams youth mayor was there as well.

Was a good turnout with Paul Mackney from UCU, Region 1 of the T&G and the GLA UNISON Branch (who kindly provided us with a room downstairs in the GLA and coffee to warm up with after the lobby so cheers guys!)

Attendance probably about 50 odd and then around 15 - 20 if us popped into the debate to see how the voting went - I had to return to work so didnt see it until the end but we were going to defeat the tory amendment as the Greens, Lib Dems and One London (urgh) were all going to vote with us.

The Torie reps were extremly rude and heckling Ken all through his budget speech especially Bob Neill and Angela Bray.

A quick report on what questions were asked is below but then as I say I had to leave - hopefully others will blog about it - and i'll post some pictures of the lobby when I get them.

First few questions concentrated on the increase in "Gangland warfare between youth" because of free bus travel makes it easier for gangs to get to places.

Ken replied that he's not sure how gangs rely on buses for gangland warfare.
But that Police did monitor the impact of the free travel and there was a minimal increase for a small of amount of time - but that incidents are now below the levels prior to the implementation of free travel.
Now there is 20% more take up of the travel and no increase in asb.

Tories then went on to say the Mayor is out of touch with Croydon because there is increases there and will he be providing - additional finance for police around ealing highschool were there is increased conflicts because of increase in school children getting the bus - (issues like noise levels music on buses etc)

KL -We allocated a new team of pcso's to deal with transport problems in Barnet,Bromley as well as Croydon there is also provision for 3 extra pcso's if needed in each ward.
He then want on to have a dig at the Tories for demonising youth as
Unicef today called for politicians to stop demonising youth and all they were speaking about so far is youths in gangs, gangland warfare and how youth are trouble on the buses - incident's on london transport levels are extremly low and its not all youth related.

Mr Evans then goes onto say that the mayor hasn't consulted bus drivers. Members of T + G have been writing to him as your leaving them without support and leadership - people will be like Jim Buckley a T+G member and bus driver who has written to me would have to get out of cab and put himself in danger.

ken replied well the T+G were outside lobbying to defend this. We will be introducing photocard's
He interrupts to say But how are u going to enforce it.
Ken continues _ I get the bus everyday I have yet to see an incident on the bus - I'm sure there are incidents but its a very small amount of problems. The photocard will be introduced in January and the cost will be bourne out of transport budget - this is an in principle decsion and details will be worked out about how to implement the card - through schools or post offices.

Mr Biggs (labour) - Bad behaviour is more of a problem in the suburbs - and he asked given that there is a low take up of oyster card in his area east london and for poorer families in general will there be consessions for people on benefits?
K - we have gone down to 5% cash fares now and are advertising targetting those people still buying tickets.
Vast majority of people buying tickets use transport less than once a week.

Thats when I left. :) hope you enjoyed it x I must say it was more entertaining than the last time I went to the GLA :)

Here's an update on 15 February with some photos,

first of all a picture of the UCU banner and logo - they've nicked the colour of this blog!

here is the T&G banner with Ken (and some heart shaped balloons...)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pensions Dispute - All talk and still no action.

I thought readers of this blog would be interested in the latest report from Glenn Kelly

Service group executive report
Meeting 8th FEB 2007

Pensions dispute
All talk and still no action!!

On the 10th January the SGE voted through the following resolution “to continue with negotiations until the 7th February to try and reach agreement and if this was not successful to seek authority for a ballot for strike action”.

It also agreed the resolution for the special conference, which has been sent out to every, branch that motion says “the proposals are unacceptable as they stand. The two critical issues are the limited protection of the 85year rule and the new threat to pensions on redundancy” it goes on to say “conference therefore welcomes the service group executive decisions on the 10th January that it would ballot for strike action if no significant progress were made on these issues in negotiations with the LGA and with the government by the 6th February”

However when the executive met last Thursday whilst everyone agreed that we STILL have no agreement with the Government and the employers and with just 20days left to the consultation period, the SGE voted with less than five of us voting against not to back the 10th of January decision and ballot process for strike action.

Two arguments were put forward to justify this, firstly the government’s climb-down on the redundancy proposals and secondly the responses from the regional consultation.

Redundancy proposals
It is true the government have now said they will drop the redundancy proposal, but ask yourself, was it in reality anything other than a scare tactic on their part. It was not raised for two years as an issue and then near end of negotiations it’s thrown in on the 22nd December and then dropped just four weeks later! With no action on our part.

Is it not more the case that, they tried to use it to frighten us, then remove it and say look how good we are in responding to your concerns. This is a classic management tactic in order to force workers to accept a poor deal.

But whatever your take on what they were up to on the redundancy proposals look at where are we on everything else, have they moved enough for us to hold back?

Protection on the 85year rule
This is the very issue we started this dispute on and bought out a million workers out on strike over. The position today is that we have NOT won a single day extra protection through the last round of talks, let alone our demand for lifetime protection for all existing members.

On this one issue alone we should be saying we’ve been patient for too long and should have shown the government we’re serious and start the ballot process. At the moment there is no pressure on the government to move.

A further worrying position, was also raised at the meeting by the head of local government, in relation to protection. It has been our position for sometime that we want lifetime protection for all exiting members as a minimum. After all every other public sector pension scheme has been given lifetime protection of the right to retire at 60. Yet it was said that as a result of the judicial review case, we could not now ask for lifetime protection! This is despite the fact that the judicial review made NO ruling on the length of protection that can be offered with the scrapping of the 85yr rule.

In my opinion our negotiators are preparing or have already dumped our agreed demand for lifetime protection and I think we are being set up to accept at BEST an improved protection to 2020 if were lucky! And in doing so abandoning all those members under the age of 47 to a fate of losing thousands in their pension if they retire at 60 or work two years or more to get the same benefit.

Full protection could easily be given in a number of ways for example, members could be given a level of compensation equivalent to the loss of the 85year rule or the new scheme could give the right to all existing members to take the pension at 60 without reduction.

To abandon the tens of thousands of our members excluded from the current protection arrangements would make a mockery of the whole dispute.

Regional consultation feedback

The second argument used was the responses from the regional consultation process. Firstly it should be said that no region said we’d got enough of a deal and should settle. There was a mixed response as too what the regions felt the mood of members was and under what circumstances they would support further strike action.

I can fully understand that after 11 months with no action, that many activists believe that it will be difficult to lift the members again and I can also understand that many activists have lost confidence in the leaderships handling of the dispute so far, however neither of these reasons makes a bad deal good and neither gives the leadership the right to abdicate the responsibility of giving a lead.

Other issues not resolved

We still also have not got the government to move on the issues of part time workers contribution rates nor do we have any further protection for those members on the 5% rate which we now know will effect 10% of all members in 56 funds.

What next

The consultation finishes on the 28th February and we were told that that the government is still working to a timetable of laying the regulations ten days after the consultation ends.

The executive has now voted to wait until the 27th February the day before the consultation ends to meet again to decide what to do next. It is also likely that the SGE will also agree an emergency motion on that day, as the one that they have submitted is already out of date.

It is vital now that the members take back control of the dispute through the special conference.

Despite all the difficulties that face us after a lost year we must strain every muscle to lift this dispute again and to expose the risks that we still face. If we lose this dispute it is not like a pay claim where we can come back the following year, these attacks on our pension scheme will be for generations to come.

NEC Election
I would like to take this opportunity to thank those branches that have nominated me for the NEC. The nomination period closes shortly and the forms must be submitted by the closing date.

Glenn Kelly
NEC member for Local Government

Sunday, February 11, 2007

SOS from Camden

First of all, my thanks to MarshaJane for the invitation to join the burgeoning team at "Union Futures". Doubtless, I will be contributing (the very) odd bit of analysis, but without further ado I'll start off with a straightforward appeal for support on behalf of UNISON (and other trade union) members and some of the poorest residents of the London Borough of Camden, where I've worked since April 1996.

In the wake of the May 2006 local authority elections, which ultimately resulted in the formation of a Lib Dem/Tory partnership administration, Camden's workforce faces massive cuts - if the current council leadership and senior management get their way some 350 posts will go from a full-time equivalent workforce of around 6,000.

All told the cuts in the 2007-08 budget will slash over five million quid from the Housing budget, with workers in the hostels section for homeless adults facing more than 60 job losses. Receptionists in the district housing offices are due for the chop. An innovative play scheme (Kilburn Grange) faces closure. Three posts are due to be chopped in the awards-winning welfare rights team, which has done remarkable work in alleviating poverty faced by some of the borough's most vulnerable residents. The cuts also threaten an in-house Language Service in a borough where 120 mother tongues are spoken.

To add insult to injury, while the Camden component of the Council Tax will be frozen, rents on Council flats will rise by an average of 5.3%, while charges for community meals will soar by more than 20%. Even the cost of dying in Camden will soar with charges for some burials due to rise by up to 30%.

Senior management has promised a similar cuts budget in the next financial year (i.e. another five per cent off the wages bill). And lurking behind this is the threat of still more privatisation, whether it's hostel kitchens, residential care homes for older people or the estate-by-estate transfer of Camden's still substantial housing stock.

This is not even an attempt to balance the books on the backs of the workforce in the context of a financial crisis. In fact, Camden received the most generous settlement from central Government of any London borough - a rise exceeding six per cent. The Council's reserves are substantial. Events in Camden are instead a timely reminder of the reality behind the mask of Cameron's "caring conservatism" and further proof that the Lib Dems' left of Labour credentials are threadbare in the extreme.

Though Camden under Labour was frequently a Blairite flagship, doubtless a factor in the halving of Labour's presence on the Council on 4 May 2006, the Labour group has suddently rediscovered that UNISON is an affiliated union and councillors need to be seen to fight the current partnership administration's agenda. However opportunistic their motives, the Labour group is currently part of a coalition of resistance, "Camden Against the Cuts", which held its first public event on Thursday evening (8 February) at Friends Meeting House. The meeting attracted some 150 people despite that day's dose of wintry weather. Thanks to those who attended and took part in a lively, democratically run meeting, as well as those who sent strong messages of support such as Ken Loach and John McDonnell.

Of course, the past week's rally was only the beginning of what is likely to prove a protracted and difficult campaign. The UNISON branch committee has agreed to ballot for a one-day strike, but in the meantime the next major event planned is a march and rally to coincide with the Council meeting that finalises the coming year's budget on Wednesday 28 February. The action starts at 5.00 PM as a march assembles at Mornington Crescent (the Cobden statue), London NW1 proceeding to the Town Hall, Judd Street, WC1. Camden UNISON has a reasonably good track record of solidarity with a wide range of struggles and it is still one of the best organised local government branches in London, so I conclude my debut as a "union futures" blogger with an appeal to UNISON members, other trade unionists and left activists across the capital to join us on the 28th of this month.

Another important blog

That I am now contributing to can be found here

(I know that now makes 5 I'm contributing on - am I ever gonna get time to have a life?)

I'll be opening this blog up to even more contributors so that it'll be regularly updated - or if any of u have a post you want published - I'll open it to guest posts.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Facility time and other facilities for union reps

Something I picked up at the recent UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee struck me as being of interest to readers of this blog.

The Government is consulting on a series of questions about workplace representation. In June 2006, following prior consultation, the Government launched a review of the facilities and facility time provided to workplace representatives. The consultation document presents the first findings of the review. The questions being asked include the following;

· What is the future of workplace representation and the expression of employee voice on unchanged policies?
· Is workplace representation sufficiently diverse and, if not, how can the under-representation of women, ethnic minorities and younger workers be addressed?
· To what extent do problems with securing time off for training exist and how best should they be addressed to ensure that the needs of both the representative and the employer are met.
· How should the increasing availability of online training be best exploited to provide more flexible training for workplace representatives?
· Is limited availability to email or the internet at the workplace leading to two tier representational arrangements, and, if so, what practices or remedies could be adopted to harness the benefits of ICT working for those representatives who cannot use such equipment in their normal jobs ?
· Do you consider that the use of workplace ICT equipment by representatives is seriously jeopardised because of a perceived lack of privacy, and if so, how do you think the necessary degree of privacy could best be achieved without threatening the legitimate security interests of the employer?
· Do you think that the Acas Code of Practice needs to be updated to reflect modern circumstances?
Are line managers adequately trained and advised about their management of workplace representatives, and if not, what initiatives could be undertaken to rectify any deficiency?

All trade unions are being consulted on this document and should be responding for the 29 March deadline. Activists should find out what the arrangements to respond to consultation are in their Union. In UNISON our national Recruitment Officer is co-ordinating responses. I note that PCS are encouraging branches to respond directly to the consultation also.

UNISON members lose out at Regional AGM

The limited detail available concerning the election results from the UNISON Greater London Regional AGM has been blogged elsewhere.

Detailed analysis must await the results of the elections for the Regional Committee in particular, but a few initial points can be made.

By and large the candidates of the left in the elections for Regional Council officers were defeated. Those candidates – who had the support of UNISON contributors to this blog – who had been campaigning under the slogan of Putting Members First lost five out of six posts.

The alternative slate, which existed as a scrappy piece of A5 paper with detailed voting instructions but without any name (or overt politics) won the other five posts – and the only candidate not on either slate fell through the middle. The turnout was up by more than 10% on last year (which had been the largest attendance at any Regional Council to date) and whilst the votes of each “side” appear to have gone up, the votes of those in support of the current lay leadership generally rose a little further than that of their opponents.

I know it can annoy colleagues who support the “other” slate when I refer to it as the right-wing slate, but I do think that is an accurate description. Of course those elected are (mostly) to the left of Tony Blair – although no one mentioned support for the Iraq war or for Israel against Palestine in their election addresses…

However, the hallmark of the successful candidates is a willingness to support the Union’s leadership and officials. That would be no bad thing if we were thriving and succeeding, but when the political approach of our leadership is failing to defend our pensions or our health service I think we do a disservice to our members by putting loyalty ahead of critical thought.

Questions are already being asked about the role of the Regional lay leadership in the coming year;

If asked to choose between supporting the majority of the elected lay Regional Committee or the officials will they choose to support the representatives of the members or not? The job of Convenor and Regional Council Officers is to lead the lay membership – not the office.

Will some of our leaders say anything in public at all? Those who hold leading positions are spokespeople for our Union, but spokespeople have to speak out.

Will all the elected officials observe our clear policies in opposition to the Iraq war and in support of the Palestinian people? (and should we not all be honest about our important political opinions when standing for leading positions in the Union?)

Will we have to listen to endless tedious apologies about coming from local government?

Will we have to suffer further travelogues from delegates with long journeys? It is ironic that an elected officer who spoke out against an additional Regional Council meeting because of travel problems will now have many more long journeys – and it makes the point that as a Union we can facilitate member participation even over long distances and ought not to use practical difficulties as an argument against democracy.

It was striking that whilst the current Regional lay leadership all but swept the board in the elections, they lost overwhelmingly in every vote that was taken on the floor of the meeting. Glenn Kelly gave a very well received attack upon the Region’s failure to organise a demonstration on the strike day for the LGPS in March last year (in spite of the clear decisions from the Regional Committee and Regional Local Government Committee to do so).

The meeting also voted to refer back sections of the Regional Committee report – something I don’t remember us doing to our previous Regional Convenor!

Rule amendments proposed by the left were agreed with the two thirds majority which was required (in spite of a wholly unnecessary card count – wrongly described from the Chair as a card vote). Left-wing motions on the NHS and Islamophobia were also agreed as the Region’s submissions to National Delegate Conference.

Looking at the scrappy little piece of A5 paper which was doing the rounds I realise that whilst the right-wing won many of the elections, when it came to votes on motions and rule amendments in which delegates could listen to the arguments, then the right couldn’t win a single one of these. Why were delegates voting in elections for candidates who did not support the policies and issues on which those same delegates were voting following debate?

Part of the answer is probably in the disciplined way in which the “other side” campaigned in the elections – an awful but effective hybrid of Stalinist (or perhaps post-Albanian Maoist?) technique with an appeal to loyalty and sectional interests.

I was very struck by the way in which the right-wing slate was being sold to delegates from the health service group as the “health” slate, although the candidates for the leading officer positions were from local government! I saw pressure being put on health delegates to vote for the “health” slate.

I fear that this runs the risk of giving us the worst of all worlds, as this approach encourages division between UNISON’s service groups, without in fact giving our members in the health service the “health” leadership they are encouraged to vote for. Of course the left must play no part in encouraging such division, and it was a very positive feature of the day that a number of health branches and activists were resisting this pressure.

Those who support democracy in UNISON can expect to have to continue to work hard in the coming year to fight for an effective trade union that will stand up for our members. Having won the case for four meetings of our Regional Council a year we must now work to achieve a quorum at each meeting, knowing that in all probability no work will be done in this direction by the majority of the lay leadership or by the officials.

We need to develop our work across all UNISON service groups and alongside all self-organised groups, as well as with Retired Members and Young Members. Above all, we need to reflect upon Thursday’s results and consider how we must change ourselves as rank and file activists if we are to succeed in offering our Union at Regional level the leadership which we believe is required.

Comrades, no one ever said that being a socialist in the trade union movement was going to be easy…!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Welfare Reform Bill - TUC Social Policy Forum

Well, here goes my maiden post……….

The Welfare Reform Bill is pernicious and mean spirited (and that's an understatement!). I have posted about this Bill on another blogsite (here, here and here…). There will undoubtedly be serious repercussions for people on benefits (worst hit will be disabled people and people labelled with mental health problems) if this Bill indeed goes through, which is very likely, as it will be a case of “jumping through hoops” to fight to keep your meagre benefit.

So, in the meantime I want to advertise this Social Policy forum (26th March 2007) between 10.30-3.30, organised by the TUC to discuss the planned reforms. Union activists who work in welfare rights are encouraged to attend. Speakers include:

Frances O’Grady (TUC)
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)
Disability Benefits Consortium

I was hoping that a speaker from the Coalition Against the Welfare Reform Bill (there was a lobby of Parliament late 2006) would be in attendance.

It looks, on the surface, like a cosy bureaucratic tete-a-tete so that’s why if you are a union activist who works in advice or a trade unionist who is damn unhappy with this bill and has things to say about it then sign-up now or forever hold your piece……

See you there……….