Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Solidarity with Barnet - and Bromley!


Solidarity and good luck to comrades in Barnet UNISON striking tomorrow against privatisation. The latest step in Barnet's long struggle against rampant outsourcing is well timed to coincide with Chancellor Osborne's latest austerity budget.

The coordination of Barnet's action with that being taken - in a similar cause - by UNISON and UNITE members in Bromley is a welcome development, demonstrating the wisdom of lay, rank and file trade union activists who know that the causes of our problems are political - and that they therefore require a political response, maximising political pressure through the coordination of action.

Workers in Bromley (where the employer took advantage of Regionally self-inflicted injuries of ‎the UNISON branch to break away from national conditions of service) also face an attack on trade union time off which poses a near existential threat to branch organisation.

UNISON's Greater London Region needs to develop an imaginative, inclusive strategy to fight these threats on both our northern and southern flanks - and I look forward to blogging about that strategy.

In the mean time solidarity to both Barnet and Bromley!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

A whole Conference just for Rules?


Diligent readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that its author has an almost unhealthy interest in the UNISON Rule Book.
I have therefore read with interest the post at the link above, from the blog of a UNITE activist, concerning the first day of their Rules Conference.

It appears that lay activists have resisted some fairly dodgy manoeuvres, but have lost the argument for election of officials. 

At the same time, UNITE's support for Jeremy Corbyn, the socialist candidate‎ for Labour Leader has coincided with a successful defence of UNITE's Labour Party affiliation.

As much as a special Rules Conference sounds like a personal paradise, I think I prefer the annual opportunity to amend our Rule Book which we have in UNISON.

Indeed, I prefer an Annual Conference all round - and I continue to wonder why the lay leadership of PCS would sooner be subsumed in a trade union where branches can change Union policy only every two years and rules only every four years.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

ACAS Early Conciliation and Trade Union Organising


Above is a link to the page on the website of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) where research papers are published. The most recent reviews the first year of (compulsory) "early conciliation" (the new arrangement whereby you can't lodge a tribunal complaint without first initiating a formal ACAS conciliation process.
This review is based upon large scale telephone interviewing of workers and employers using the early conciliation process. I am most interested in what their data can tell us about how trade unions are making use of early conciliation for our members - since, although the process was obviously introduced to put another obstacle in the way of tribunal claimants (and recent case law has shown that the slightest technical error can rule out a subsequent claim), the ability to "go to ACAS" about an issue is obviously something that a decent negotiator could use to some good effect.

‎In all, only 24% of claimants using early conciliation had a representative. This is worrying if it means that three quarters of workers were representing themselves (since someone who represents themselves is represented by a fool) - but that proportion is not so far away from aggregate trade union density in the economy as a whole as to be surprising. (Only 36% of the employers interviewed for this survey reported trade unions as present in their workplace).

Just under half of worker representatives were lawyers, and about a quarter were union officials. However, since (in UNISON at least) we would use a lawyer to deal with such matters, it is likely that a significant proportion of the legal representatives were there as a result of trade union presence.

Around 30% of claimants settled their claim through early conciliation, nine times out of ten for cash (with a median sum of just £1,300). ‎ Fewer than half of claimants (but almost two thirds of employers) were satisfied with the outcome of early conciliation.

A little over half of the claimants who had not arrived at a settlement had submitted, or were planning to submit, a tribunal claim. The largest single reason for not doing so in these circumstances (cited by over a quarter) was the discouraging effect of tribunal fees. Interestingly, three in five of those who were not planning a tribunal claim having failed to achieve a settlement said that ACAS was itself some part of their reason for not doing so.

It is impossible to know whether these 60% were benefiting from honest, unbiased ‎comments on a hopeless case, had gained greater understanding through the process of early conciliation or were consciously being put off - certainly, since one of the key concerns of the ACAS research is (understandably) whether early conciliation is reducing tribunal claims, and since the whole point of the process was to keep workers away from tribunals, it is not surprising to hear that the process is obviously achieving this objective.

What should trade unionists take from this data?

Well, first that we ourselves should be researching the work which we are obviously doing in early conciliation in order to assess its utility for our members and our organising effort.

Individual representation at a tribunal, which is the very essence of a "servicing" approach to trade unionism can show us, as a movement, at our most reactive.

We have reacted to the actions of the legislature over the years, whether that was creating the tribunals, extending their jurisdiction, introducing fees or introducing early conciliation. We have also reacted to soaring professional indemnity premiums by preventing lay (and full-time) officials undertaking tribunal representation, and only taking cases which are likely to win.

It may be time to step back and take a look at what is left of the system for enabling workers to enforce our employment rights, and to consider how to use this to advance union organising. This would require a radical reappraisal of how we currently operate and is therefore unlikely pending a change in leadership. It is, however, necessary.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Unite backs Corbyn - what about UNISON?


The Executive Council of our sister Union, UNITE, has shown the elementary consistency of backing, in the election for Labour Leader, the candidate who most supports the policies of that trade union - Jeremy Corbyn. (How this impacts upon debates at UNITE's Rules Conference about backing non-Labour candidates in elections I will be interested to learn.)

The challenge before UNISON's National Labour Link Committee on 29 July (the half of whom nominated by the National Executive‎ will not be in place until a decision of the NEC on that same day) is whether they can show the same loyalty to the values and policies of UNISON.

These trade union nominations (like the "supporting nominations" from Constituency Labour Parties) carry no weight as votes, all of which are cast individually between members (including affiliated members opting in), "supporters" and the Party. This individuation of the relationship between affiliated members and the Party is part of the toxic "Collins" legacy of Ed Miliband, bequeathed to us by those who negotiated on behalf of the unions.

Nevertheless, UNITE's formal backing for Jeremy Corbyn's campaign, following on from those of ASLEF, BFAWU and other unions, signifies both the seriousness of the campaign and the recognition (long overdue in some quarters)‎ that our trade unions need to put such political clout as we have behind the policies we agree.

UNISON members can lobby their Regionally elected members of the National Labour Link Committee and - since the NEC has yet to elect it's representatives - should also lobby any and all NEC members to support Jeremy Corbyn. Every vote cast for Jeremy Corbyn, and ever effort to maximise his vote, helps to bring hope back to our movement (when we had almost forgotten it).

Congratulations to the UNITE EC for their backing of Jeremy Corbyn!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Confusion over pay...


This story - from our national website - reports the decision of the Higher Education Service Group Executive (SGE) to accept the employers' pay offer, following a consultation exercise in which 72% of members participating supported this course of action.

That the web story (at least as at 9am Saturday morning) didn't report what the pay offer was (‎1%) may just be a slip up - but it is perhaps indicative of the confusion and uncertainty around pay which dominates the UNISON Centre.

The 1% pay offer won't be implemented until the conclusion of a disputes procedure likely to be initiated by UCU and UNITE (the unions rejecting 1%), at which UNISON and GMB (having accepted 1%) will be present as observers.

Whilst our members in Higher Education are deciding to accept 1%, we are consulting our members in Further Education on the (non) offer (of 0%) - and activists in branches need to take the lead in recommending rejection if we are to move our Union in the direction of defending our living standards.

At the same time, our members in Probation - having suspended strike action for further talks are being called upon to take two hours of token strike action on ‎14 July (to protect the lawfulness of their ballot mandate) as UNISON continues to oppose what is - in essence - a 0% "offer" with small one off cash payments for those who won't benefit from incremental progression.

The obvious timidity of the national Union in relation to pay reflects the genuine uncertainty of the membership and the uneven pattern of our consciousness and combativity. This mixed picture is hardly exclusive to UNISON - UCU's rejection of 1% in Higher Education is based upon a 53% vote in a ‎consultative ballot with a 32% turnout (and in which 53% indicated that they were unwilling to take strike action).

It would be absurd to complain that a reluctant leadership are restraining the natural militancy of an angry membership - that isn't what's going on.

The failure of leadership in UNISON (and much of the wider movement) is deeper and more serious than that.

Confronted by an uncertain and timid membership, we appear content to reflect this spirit in the leadership we offer at a national level.

What is needed is a determined approach to outlining a plausible strategy to raise our pay - and a genuine campaign to win the support of our members for this strategy.

The likelihood that UNISON will do this now is, I fear, fairly slender - activists need to do all we can to keep pushing in this direction however we can.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bloggers anonymous...?

I blog in order to share my views and to let people know what I am doing. It’s part of accountability.
I have little admiration for those who cloak the expression of their views in anonymity.
Since the last General Secretary election we have been blessed with the online presence of a normally anonymous blog set up as a fan site for Dave Prentis (which sometimes carries some useful content).
Now the internet has spawned an equally anonymous blog set up to berate the incumbent UNISON General Secretary and his supporters.
There is something desperately unhealthy about not putting ones name to ones views and politics.

If someone expresses their views anonymously the best place to file those views is the wastepaper bin.

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's still about pay

The news that the Association of Colleges (AoC) (the national employers' organisation for the Further Education sector) has made a 0% pay offer doesn't simply challenge our use of the English language.

(In what sense is an offer of nothing "an offer"?)

More importantly, this development highlights the fact that pay will continue to be a central question for UNISON in the coming year. The indicative ballot which will now take place among our members in FE will not be the last such national ballot in the next few months.

Whilst the election of a majority Conservative Government, and the whirlwind ‎of spending cuts which it will accelerate, may well push other employers to the conclusion arrived at by the AoC - that they cannot afford a pay offer - our members cannot afford continuing pay restraint. We must encourage our members to continue to demand pay increases whatever the financial position of their employers if we are not to collude with the progressive impoverishment of our own people.

The challenges we face in current circumstances cannot, of course, be underestimated. It's one thing to know that you need a pay rise, and quite another to believe that your trade union has a strategy to achieve that pay rise (which is always the most important element of the decision to make the sacrifice of strike action).

In each dispute the relevant Sector Committee will have to map out a strategy for action which could win. This undoubtedly requires the courage to take risks, and the wisdom to appreciate that there are those in our Union for whom national strike action is essentially a recruitment exercise, only ever intended to have a token collective bargaining impact. There is almost no useful strike-winning expertise in the UNISON Centre and therefore little hope of helpful advice from that quarter.

Much energy was expended in Glasgow calling upon us‎ to resist the Tories. Given the likely outcome of such resistance in the short term this year could be our last chance for national action to break the pay freeze. Given the pitiable performance of the majority of the NJC Committee last year it is difficult to be optimistic about the prospect of our members receiving the leadership we need and deserve if we are to win a pay rise in local government - nor does the picture in health look rosier.

Nevertheless, ‎if we are serious about our opposition to this vile Government (and we have to be) we must, as activists, find ways to mobilise and organise support for each pay dispute as it arises, and to coordinate action as best we can.

Pay is the issue which unites our membership.

It's still about pay.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Solidarity with London Met UNISON


UNISON members at London Metropolitan University are on strike again tomorrow as part of their continuing campaign against cuts and job losses.

The link above details numerous ways in which you can express support for the action and I would encourage all UNISON members, all trade unionists - and everyone who cares about the future of education - to show support in any way you can.

Fine words were spoken at our Conference last week about how we shall stand up against this Government and their austerity policies - but the finest words don't match the deeds of our members at London Metropolitan University.

Good luck comrades!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

If you marched against austerity on 20 June (or if you wished you could) - now support Jeremy Corbyn

Yesterday’s marches against austerity were a timely and appropriate response to the election of the most reactionary Government of our lifetimes – the spirit of the marchers is an inspiration for the resistance which will be required. The immediate challenge is to find a way to focus the determination of the marchers in a way which puts pressure upon a Government with a Parliamentary majority.
We all need to continue the struggle to defend the working class and the welfare state in our own roles and localities – but now, unlike five years ago, there is also a simple, unifying cause which enables all opposed to austerity to express that opposition together in a way which impacts upon the Westminster bubble.

The bigger the support for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, the greater the pressure on the Parliamentary opposition to oppose, and the greater the political space within which to articulate and fight for an alternative – indeed if everyone who marched yesterday, joined the Labour Party (or registered to vote as a supporter) voted for Jeremy he could win.