Thursday, December 27, 2007

Trade Unionists organising against the far right

Here are details of an important event on Saturday 23 February 2008 between 10am and 4pm at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS, organised by the South East Region TUC;

Mobilising to defeat fascism in London, the South East and the East of England

A mobilisation event for trade unionists

The elections for the Greater London Assembly and Mayor will be held on International Workers’ Day 1 May 2008. If a party achieves 5 per cent of the vote it will almost certainly gain an Assembly seat. We are confronted by the possibility that one or more fascists might be elected to the Assembly. This event is designed to mobilise trade unions in the struggle against the far right, to better enable individual trade unionists to take effective action and to provide the opportunity to build linkages between committed people and campaigns.

A significant part of this event will be the running of workshops to teach specific campaign skills that people can use in campaigns against the far-right.

All trade unionists and in London, the South East and the East of England are welcome to attend, but the focus for this event will be on the GLA elections to be held 1 May 2008.

There is no charge for attending this event. Congress House is a fully accessible building.
Delegates should contact their union for travel, childcare and subsistence costs, but lunch will be provided.

Further information will be available shortly, but in the meantime register your interest by contacting SERTUC on 0207 467 1220 or at

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tis the Season to be Jolly?

Nollaig Shona Daoibh and Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh as we might say in Ireland to all. And to all other denominational readers agnostics and athiest seasons greetings and a happy Western calender new year :)

Heres to a sucessful 2008 it will be hard work but our primary aim must be to see public sector trade union unity to smash the 2% government pay limit. I hear the Police Federation have been talking to the TUC I hope they gave them some helpful advice :)

My hopes for 2008 (1) a decent pay award for public sector workers (2) a lay member led democratic union at all levels I am involved (3) Some Labour party policies coming out of the Labour party lets start with dropping this outrageous attempt to slip through an extension to detention without trial , perhaps followed with some ID card re-thinking and an acceptance that the private sector hasnt worked in delivering public services repeal of the anti Union laws and troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. (4) Protection for agency workers


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Organising Migrant Workers

I was pleased to be able to attend a UNISON seminar on our strategy for organising migrant workers yesterday, although unfortunately I could not attend the whole session as I had to deal with branch business.

Dave Prentis gave a stirring introduction to an issue which he identified, alongside public sector pay and Equal Pay, as one of our key priorities for the coming year. With an increase in migration there are more and more migrant workers who need the strength and organisation of trade unionism. The priority which we should give to organising migrant workers is not a new issue on this blog.

The officer leading this project at Head Office is keen to find volunteers willing to champion the organisation of migrant workers by the Union – and this will be necessary as several participants faced up to the problem of convincing not just our members but some senior activists (and officials!) of the need to organise migrant workers.

It is in the best internationalist traditions of the trade union movement to reach out and organise the unorganised and exploited – and there is no doubt that migrant workers are subject in some cases to appalling exploitation. We heard about positive initiatives being taken around the country. We have to take issue with the ignorant and ill-informed who don’t understand why this is important.

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.

Monday, December 10, 2007

McDonnell Condemns NHS Trust

Chair: John McDonnell MP


McDonnell condemns NHS Trust for sacking critic of mental health service cuts
John McDonnell MP, Unison member and LRC Chair, today condemned the refusal of the Manchester Community and Mental Health Trust to reverse on appeal the dismissal of Unison official Karen Reissman.

John McDonnell, said:
"Karen's dismissal is blatant victimisation of a vocal opponent of privatisation. Karen and her trade union - Unison - deserves the support of all Labour Party members and trade unionists to reverse this injustice."

For further comment or interview:
Office: 020 7219 1626
Karen and the staff at manchester Community Mental Health Trust have been on indefinite strike action to get Karen reinstated.

There are 2 rallies tommorrow night in London and Manchester in support of Karen Reissman. The Manchester rally takes place from 6pm in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester; and the London rally in Committee Room 9 of the House of Commons from 7:30pm.
John McDonnell MP is Labour MP for Hayes & Harlington, a member of Unison, and Chair of the LRC - a grassroots organisation with over 1000 members and 100 affiliates.

BBc News are also now reporting the news from bbc news

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

An interview with INQUEST

I recently conducted an online interview with Helen Shaw, Co-Director of INQUEST

1. Can you explain the role of INQUEST and how it began?

INQUEST was set up in 1981 by the families and friends of a number of people who had died in controversial circumstances in police and prison custody. One of the founder members of INQUEST was Celia Stubbs the partner of Blair Peach who died after be hit on the head with a police baton. We are the only independent advice and campaigning organisation working directly with bereaved families and friends following a death in custody.

This includes deaths at the hands of state agents and in all forms of custody; police, prison, young offender institutions, secure training centres and immigration detention centres. We provide a free, confidential advice service to all families who go through an inquest process including those families whose relatives have died at work or following major disasters.

We also undertake policy and parliamentary work and most recently have been working on the use of restraint against children in secure training centres and the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Our casework priorities are deaths in police and prison, in immigration detention and deaths of detained patients).

Our focus on deaths in custody and the monitoring of such deaths means that we are at the forefront of uncovering patterns and trends. Arising from this we have particular concerns about the deaths of women, black people, children and young people, and people with mental health problems. This is both in terms of the treatment and care received by the deceased in custody and the experience of bereaved relatives following the death.

2. What changes do you want to see in the inquest system?

INQUEST’s casework over the last 25 years has indicated that the most pressing reforms that are needed are an extension of the remit of the inquest system, changing the structure to create a national coroner service to improve service delivery and ensure high standards and accountability; improvement to the support and information available to bereaved people; the introduction of a system of monitoring inquest verdicts and a statutory obligations on public bodies to respond to the findings of an inquest; Non-means tested legal aid for bereaved people; specific action to be taken to counter lengthy delays.

3. What responses have you received from the publication "Unlocking the Truth"?

We have had an extremely positive response for ‘Unlocking the Truth’, A review of the book from the Guardian can be found here. The report describes the experiences of families bereaved by deaths in custody from the time of death to the conclusion of the investigation and inquest and situates them within the political, recent historical and legal context. Copies can be ordered from our website.

4. The Government eventually conceded and included deaths in prisons and police cells in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. How will this translate in practice?

The government strongly opposed the extension of the remit of this piece of legislation to cover deaths in custody. After being defeated 5 times in the House of Lords on this issue they eventually conceded to extending the law on the basis that the legislation would not come into force for 3-5 years.

We will be monitoring the actions taken by the government on this as the issue progresses. We would hope the legislation would act primarily as a deterrent to prevent future deaths which have been caused by systemic management failings.

5. The number of women who have died in prison so far in 2007 has been 7. With the completion and publication of the Corston Review, do you expect the Government to accept Corston's recommendations?

The government is expected to publish its response to the Corston Review tomorrow and we eagerly await their response. So far they have sounded positive about the review’s findings but given the current climate of criminal justice policy with increasing numbers of people being sent to prison and limited resources being put aside by the government to support community alternatives to custody we are not particularly hopeful the government will endorse all of the Corston reviews recommendations.

6. This society locks up vulnerable and powerless people but what is an utter travesty is the locking up of young people. Young people like Joseph Scholes and Gareth Myatt who was subjected to physical restraint ("seated double embrace"). What is Inquest doing to highlight this?

INQUEST believes that for many young people, prison is an inappropriate place where their experience of imprisonment can contribute directly to their death.
We believe there needs to be a proper understanding of how vulnerable children should be treated in the criminal justice system and are calling for a properly resourced public inquiry into the deaths of the 30 children who have died in state custody since 1990 in the hope that proper lessons can be learnt from these tragic deaths.

INQUEST has particular concerns about the high levels of restraint used on children in custody. We are currently campaigning against the government’s decision to extend the use of restraint that can be used against children in secure training centres.

7. I attended the deaths in custody demonstration at the end of October. It was organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC). Can you tell me how this campaign came about?

The UFFC is a collective of families who have had a death in custody and who campaign to highlight the issues and prevent future deaths. It was formed by a number of families who had been supported by INQUEST and who wanted to campaign together. Each year the UFFC organises a Family Remembrance Procession from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street where they lay flowers in memory of those they have lost and hand a letter to the Prime Minister.
Each year it proves to be a powerful event helping to raise the profile of deaths in custody with those who need to listen and take action. It also is a valuable opportunity for families to meet and share their experiences with each other. More information can be found on the UFFC.

8. What can trade unionists and activists do to campaign around these issues? How can we show support to Inquest?

Trade Unionists have a vital role to play in campaigning around deaths in custody. INQUEST has historically worked closely with the trade union movement and last year produced a pamphlet with UNISON on Black Deaths in Custody: The story of Roger Sylvester.

We encourage individuals and branches to affiliate to inquest, invite us to speak at events and distribute our material.
You can also sign up to our e-newsletter (via the website) which has details of our current activity and how you can get involved.
Individuals who would like to get involved in campaigning can also contact individual family campaigns – our website has a list of current campaigns.

9. The jury found the MPS guilty of endangering the public over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Justice 4 Jean is campaigning for a full inquest, judicial public inquiry, and recognise accountability and responsibility for these actions such as manslaughter charges being brought and Ian Blair resigning. What is Inquest's opinion of this?

INQUEST supports the Menezes family campaign for justice and demands. We are working with the family’s solicitors to assist them in securing a prompt, wide reaching inquest as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New Labour’s anti poverty strategy: eh, what strategy?

Following on from New Labour’s commitment to exploit the poor, their latest gigantic cock-up (well, there are so many to choose from!) is two damning reports pubished within the past couple of days.

Firstly, Monitoring, poverty and social exclusion, the Joseph Rowntree publication that states (and no surprises here) there’s an increase of 200,000 children living in poverty in 2005-2006 compared to the year before.

The number of kids living in poverty has fallen by 600,000 since NL made its pledge to end child poverty in ‘99. There has been no ongoing progress in the last 3 yrs and NL is still 500,000 short of the target it should have reached in 2004-2005.

And secondly, the publication of the Treasury’s Select Committee’s report on the Comprehensive Spending Review (‘07) casts serious doubt on NL’s commitment about halving child poverty by 2010 , ‘because it has failed to explain what it’s doing to meet the target’.

Any backtracking would represent a ‘conscious decision to leave hundreds of thousands of children in poverty than is necessary or desirable’.

One area expressed in the Joseph Rowntree report is tax credits. One of the co-author’s Peter Kenway argues, “Tax credits may be working, but they are not enough on their own. Yet the government budgetary and legislative programme set out this autumn contains no substantial new ideas about what should be done”.

Ironically, Tax Credits are means tested and a very badly designed measure that often takes money away from people with children due to its complexity. The Brown retort is that it is better than nothing and see Tax Credits as a panacea.

Tax Credits and nothing more in combating poverty, such as a decent minimum wage, universal free childcare, reducing taxation for the poor and the building of more social housing. These are “substantial new ideas” in fighting poverty but NL is so wedded to the market.

In the report, Women and Incapacity Benefits, part of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) it states:

Until there are sufficient and affordable high quality childcare and social services these responsiblities shouldn’t put women at risk of sanctions and increase their risk of poverty’.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Newham victimisation heads for employment tribunal

I was pleased to come back to hear that UNISON’s claim for interim relief for Michael Gavan, unfairly sacked and victimised by Newham Council, is going to be heard on Friday 14 December.

I hope we can hear more about this from Michael when he speaks at the House of Commons on 11 December.

Good luck Michael!

PCS members on strike this week

PCS members at the DWP have announced a two day strike by those working in Jobcentres, the Pension service and Child Support Agency.

The strike - a result of a dispute over pay - will take place on Thursday 6 December and Friday 7 December and will be followed by an overtime ban, the PCS says.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Politics of the workhouse

Tis the season of goodwill to all the unemployed? "Bah humbug"! says Peter Hain

The latest of the raft of proposals from Pete Hain, Work and Pensions minister, (he of the bad memory) regarding welfare reform includes Jobcentre Plus advisers in GP surgeries, private and voluntary organisations being paid on a results basis when finding jobs for the unemployed and compulsion should be intensified.

At the moment, 6 piloted areas personal advisers working out of GP surgeries and Hain wants to extend the pilot. In some areas welfare benefit advisers operate out of GP surgeries, funded by local government. The difference between them and Jobcentre personal advisers is that there's no hidden agenda. Benefits advisers have the best interests of the claimaint and that's there job, unlike a personal adviser, who will be under enormous pressure to get the claimant a job as it will be based on results incentives. This cynical ploy is in no way beneficial for the claimant, their best interests are of no consequence.

To achieve the highest possible returns, claimants will be coerced into any old job. It will be easier to "park" the unemployable and "cream" off the ones who don't have those pesky problems or who need extra support and time. It will be interesting what the BMA will make of this untold pressure and increased fear that will be applied on patients visiting these personal advisers and will undoutedly have a negative impact on their mental health.

And what training will these personal advisers have in mental health, how sensitive will they be? Once services are contracted out who will they been accountable to? Where will be the transparency? At a least with a government civil servant and a department there's accountability.

But with the proposals coming out of the Green paper, coercison and compliancy will be intensified in order to obey the rules and get your meagre benefit.
New Labour's ideology is about worshipping the market. The reforms to welfare is all about "modernisation" and being a "customer" in Brown's brave new "rights and responsibilities" society. It is the language of privatisation. These new reforms have increased bureaucracy and have added complications (a study of personal advisers in Job Centre Plus centres have said the reforms have NOT made their jobs easier).

Claimants on disablity benefits are some of the poorest in this society and live in grinding poverty. One area NL has been silent is strengthening basic emloyment rights and tightening up the Disability Discrimination Act. There's no mention of retention either. Instead stigmatising claimants with powerful words like "workshy" and "feckless poor" and telly adverts that emphasise benefit fraud.

The results stigmatise but also create a divide and rule tactic. The startling reality is does put people OFF benefits they are entitled to as they don't want to be seen as scroungers. No mention of the benefits not claimed that goes into the billions! Not telly adverts to tell people what they are entitled in.

But the latest mantra from New Labour, spoken by the swivel-eyed Hain, is "work is good for you".
As Disability Alliance argues the Green paper, "Seems more interested in castigating individual claimants for their situation".

And from NAWRA (National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers): "The danger is that as the level of compulsion increases, resources and efforts will be dissipated in the ensuring compliance with conditions"..

Furthermore, the extra sting in the tail regarding the Green paper is the inclusion of workfare. It states that benefit claimants should be required to undertake a period of full-time work experience after a defined period in receipt of benefits. This is workfare, make no mistake. A two-pronged attacked which will see claimants working (without any guarantee of a job at the end) for their meagre benefits while driving down jobs and conditions for people working as members of staff.

Gordon Brown has consistently shown where is values lie and they lie with the market. It was at his speech to the Confederation of British Industry where he argued that there will be more compulsion on the unemployed.

These new bureaucratic reforms of welfare ,included in the Green paper, such as flexible New Deal, Pathways to Work and contracting out (for a full comprehensive discussion see the TUC response) are geared towards the market. This isn't about the state reducing poverty it is about increasing it. The ethos of NL is to blame the poor, the rationale being, "you want to get out of the poverty trap then take any old crappy job.."

At the heart of these reforms is letting the private sector to their worst and to ravage welfare provision (many of these private companies who have been given the green light to deliver Pathways to Work programmes have a bad reputation for pay and conditions, for example, WorkDirections).

At the moment, a public civil servant hands benefits to people who need them. Unfortunately, there's no profit. With the current proposals, the private company that gets you the job will profit from it and so will the employer. It is a win-win situation for private enterprise but not for the claimant. Another aspect of NL's ideology is "supply side" economics that means it is all about cheap exploitable labour and nothing about building up skills and knowledge.
To finish, Dexter Whitfield (in his excellent bk, New Labour's Attack on Public Services) sums it up well:

"Marketisation is a means of establishing the dominance of commercial values, replacing central planning of social needs with market forces, and increasing private ownership and corporatisation. In particular; it extends control by transnational companies, creating new forms of accumulation and profit maximisation, and increases the exploitation of labour"