Tuesday, September 02, 2014

NHS marchers remind us what is needed


UNISON's support for the Peoples' March to save the National Health Service wisely focuses our attention on the desperate vandalism of the Coalition Government as it approaches its demise.

Cameron and Clegg have done more damage to what remains of our welfare state than any previous Government - and our President was right to highlight, in addressing the marchers, the latest current outrages.

If we want to imagine a twenty first century health service entirely run by and for the private sector we need look no further than ‎social care, where contractors trying to squeeze profits out of already inadequate funding offer zero hours contracts with no payment for travel time.

If we are‎ to avert this future for our health service we need to fight for a social care sector based upon caring values rather than commercial contracts. To do this requires both union organisation and a more favourable context. That context requires both a change of Government and a Labour Party which rediscovers a belief in public service and the public sector.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Solidarity with Barnet strikers

‎For any readers who haven't already seen this - here is the request for solidarity with the strike action to be taken by members of Barnet Unison against the attacks from "Your Choice Barnet";

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Dear colleagues,

Your Choice Barnet support workers will be taking industrial action 8th and 9th September with more dates to follow, after having a 9.5% pay cut imposed on them by their employer. Like anyone else in Local Government these workers have had pay freeze after pay freeze up to this pay cut!

Your Choice Barnet is a Local Authority Trading Company set up by Barnet Council February 2012. Barnet UNISON always believed the business case was flawed and sadly we have been proven right as YCB has had to borrow £1 million (around 20% of its budget) from Barnet Homes to be repaid at commercial interest rates over the next 3 years. Our members have already had cuts to their terms and conditions as all shift allowances have been cut and the numbers of Support Workers have been decreased whilst the numbers of Assistant Support Workers have been increased.

If your organisation is thinking of outsourcing some of your services you may want to have a read of this Your Choice Barnet (YCB) "The real deal" http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/?q=node/1394

The Your Choice Barnet Care worker cause is very similar to the Doncaster Care UK workers and we believe it is incredibly brave and principled of all of these workers to take this action. Their action throws a spotlight on the travesties of low pay in the care sector and the low quality of care which accompanies this low pay.

We are asking you to get behind this dispute by

1.    Sending in your messages of support to contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

2.    Collecting money for the strikers

3.    Donating money – cheques payable to: Barnet UNISON Industrial Action Fund

4.    Inviting our strikers to speak at meetings/ rallies/ events ( to arrange email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk)

5.    Joining our strikers on the picket line (for details email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

6.    Please signing our petition https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-ongoing-destruction-of-services-for-adults-with-disabilities-in-barnet and as your colleagues and other to do the same.

Best wishes

John Burgess

Branch Secretary.


0208 359 2088


Are we history?


Those of us who've been waiting for mainstream popular cinema to deal with the miners' strike in a way which is a bit more "Made in Dagenham" than "Billy Elliot" appear to be about to get our wish with the forthcoming release of "Pride".

I look forward to a good evening out - but (like most activists "of a certain age") I'm sure I'll look back as well. ‎The defeat of the miners has shaped a generation in this country as part of the global retreat of the working class movement associated with the fall of the wall and the emergence of a unipolar world in which capitalism faces no global challenge (unless you count mediaeval religious fanaticism with guns).

I'm sure I'm not the only ageing activist who often feels myself a 1980s lefty mysteriously adrift in an unwelcoming twenty-first century. ‎Indeed, it seems we have to fight over again many of the battles we thought won then. 

It's not just the anti-feminism (shading into misogyny) that expresses itself in political parties from the Liberal Democrats to the Socialist Workers - only in the last week, I have encountered attitudes to racism from employers (and elsewhere) which we were confronting thirty years ago. The movement we have to take on reaction is weaker now than then, with half as many trade unionists and far lower union density.

A film about the very important work of "Lesbians and Gays support the Miners" is bound to set us thinking about all these issues.‎ Have the politics of those of us socialists who consider ourselves Marxists become a historical curiosity? Are we simply history, to entertain progressive cinema audiences and fill the review pages of liberal newspapers?



We are history - but not in that negative, defeatist sense.

History isn't simply the past - it is the past moving into the future (and we study it not simply for entertainment but to understand our world in order to change it).

The vision of a better world, shared by many of those active around the Miners' Strike, has been - and is - shared by millions since. The values of solidarity and equality deserve a completely pig-headed defence in a time of individualism and faux-meritocracy (as the elite entrench their power and encourage division amongst our class).

Our movement has been moving for centuries - and often across harsher terrain than that of the early twenty-first century. ‎There are always new activists joining our ranks and - though sometimes there are fewer young socialists than at others - we move forward again after every setback and every defeat.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Health workers - vote "YES" for action

The UNISON ballot of health workers in England started today.

This is a ballot for strike action for fair pay. The same issue that has already led to strike action in local government.

Health workers who want to know can calculate how much they have already lost.

UNISON activists should do all we can to maximise the turnout in the health service ballot.

And if we are serious about winning better living standards for both health and local government workers we will campaign for joint action.

"Commissioning" undermines care

Well done Barnet UNISON for this link to a story about the treatment of care workers in today’s “commissioning” culture – which is also a story about how care is made inadequate and uncaring.

For all those who think that a split between “commissioning” and “delivery” is the “modern” way to improve public services in a time of scarcity, the actual experience of zero hours contracts and fifteen minute appointments is an important corrective.

It’s not just that it is odious and counterproductive that profit should be made out of social care – it’s that outsourcing encourages the commissioners to offer contracts which can only be made to pay by cutting corners.

UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter is the least that is needed. Beyond that our movement needs to organise these workers to reverse the casualisation of social care – and we need a Government that will bring social care where it belongs, into the public sector.

The Care UK strikers are leading this fight right now. We have to find ways to spread this struggle.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Strike whilst the iron is hot!

The willingness of workers to take strike action is less than it was when I was young. 

As I have observed in previous posts, there is more work to be done now in explaining the rationale and justification for the collective withdrawal of labour (even in principle) than was the case in the 1980s.

However, given determined and positive leadership workers will still strike - which is just as well since without that willingness to take action we often have little with which to negotiate.

The idea that somehow "world class negotiators" could resolve the issues which confront trade union members without the need for collective action turned out to have no more shelf-life than the former UNISON NEC member who once expressed that view.

Preparedness to take action is, however, a fairly delicate flower. Weeks (or months) of preparation can be confounded by days (or even hours) of delay.

The "common sense" of our sadly reactionary age is that collective action is as futile as solidarity is misguided - and this "common sense" all too easily reasserts itself - particularly when the conduct of our union seems to reinforce cynicism.

In fact this "common sense", whilst common, is not sensible. ‎Workers standing together can achieve greater justice - and our trade union is far from weak, albeit we are weaker than we were (and our members - and potential members - would have much to gain if we were stronger once more).

If we wish to rebuild the strength of our movement (which is probably the most important task we face) then we must cherish above all a willingness to take collective action - particularly when guided by principled and pragmatic local leadership.

We must ensure that we empower and enable our members to strike whilst the iron is hot.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Can we get a "warm autumn" in 2014?

We may not be getting much of an Indian summer at the moment, but as we return from the summer holidays, it almost feels as if we might be going to have a “hot autumn” of industrial action.

The local government pay dispute continues with strike action scheduled for 14 October (unless, which is unlikely, the further discussions between the joint secretaries of the National Joint Council produce an improved pay offer). In the health service the strike ballot in England begins next week. Meat inspectors employed by the Food Standards Agency will stage two four hour strikes on the mornings of Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 August, having been offered a miserly 0.75% increase. UNISON’s members in the police service are being recommended to reject a 1% pay offer and prepare for strike action.

Mobilising our members to take action is not a swift or simple matter however. Strike action is hardly now a routine in our movement and, in many cases, we are having to argue almost from first principles to persuade members to take action. We are absolutely right to do this – a trade union movement that did not fight in these circumstances would be on a fast track to irrelevance – but we’ll do ourselves no favours by pretending either that it is easy to get effective strike action, or by exaggerating our successes.

The fragmentation of the public service workforce also means that many doing jobs which would, a generation ago, have been covered by the national pay disputes are now outside national pay determination  – we therefore need (and generally have yet to find) ways to generalise the fight for fair pay to the fragmented workforce beyond some isolated examples - in Doncaster for example the inspirational fight for the living wage for Care UK workers is continuing – and tomorrow will link up with the People’s March for the NHS as it passes through SouthYorkshire.

Local defensive struggles are also springing up wherever local trade union organisation is capable of articulating collective opposition to the more vicious assaults upon workers’ living standards. In Barnet, where the local Tories’ extreme voted to strike – and will be demonstrating at Hendon Town Hall at 6pm on Monday 1 September. Similarly, workers at Aberystwyth University are now balloting for action over plans to eliminate their pension scheme.

UNISON activists (and trade union activists generally) need to publicise, and show solidarity with, these local disputes at the same time as we try to mobilise members for national action. We may not thereby get a "hot autumn" but if we warm things up a bit we may be better placed to rebuild our movement and our living standards.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Unity is healthy - we should act in unison


As local government workers prepare for tomorrow's day of protest about our pay dispute, health workers are beginning to plan a similar protest on Monday week.

When, more than twenty years ago, we chose the name for our (then) new trade union, it was clear that we chose the word "unison" because of what it implies.

Those who sing in unison sing together - and sing the same tune. (Those of us prone to occasional dissonance are often reminded of this very fact). Groups taking action on different days are not acting "in unison".

There may be sound tactical reasons why one group of workers will take some action on one date and others on another. There may be practical or logistical reasons why this is unavoidable.

However, if we, in UNISON, are serious about maximising political pressure in support of our fight against falling real wages then, when it comes to strike action, we will act "in unison."

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Marching to save the NHS - and more


I hope the weather improves for the Peoples' March to save the NHS, which has UNISON's full support.

It's shocking how far and how fast this Government has been able to go in the direction of dismantling our national health service, as it has in its general project of savaging public services.

‎Whilst it's true that our trade unions haven't suffered the sort of defeats and setbacks which we saw from the 80s onwards, I'm not sure that vindicates the decision to retreat from the pensions dispute two and a half years a go - which was the decisive moment of this Parliament.

In fact (as regular readers of this blog - Sid and Doris Marxist-Leninist - will be aware), I think we made a tragic error in 2011/12 which has overshadowed our ability to organise ever since. ‎Nevertheless, the spate of pay disputes, together with the forthcoming TUC demonstration, taken together with the modest indications of popular opposition to Government policy (of which the People's March for the NHS is an important example) provide a context for campaigning and organising in the run up to the General Election.

We need to aim clearly for the defeat of the Coalition Government (which means support for the only available national alternative) - but we also need to energise our movement so that we can place demands on a Prime Minister Miliband from the first day.

‎The next few months will require more activity than at any time in a generation if we are to turn the tide which has been flowing against us for so long.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Implementing Motion 53


‎The link above is to the speech given by the proposer of Motion 53, agreed on Friday 20 June at UNISON National Delegate Conference in Brighton.

This motion, reprioritised for debate by Conference delegates and overwhelmingly agreed by Conference, with the support of the National Executive Council (NEC) commits the Union to vigorous and wholehearted support for victimised activists.

This is vitally important to the future of our Union (and of trade unions generally). Our movement depends, more than anything else, upon the voluntary effort of our activists. In the current climate of austerity we are - inevitably - asking our volunteer army to engage in confrontation with employers.

Every one of us who has chosen to give years of our lives to the movement remembers the first time we realised that we had to face down people with the formal power to sack us. That's the moment at which you choose. 

Those who choose the movement are the lifeblood of the Union. Our activists must know that the Union stands behind them when they stand up to the employers to defend the interests of our members. That's why Conference delegates supported Motion 53.

In implementing Motion 53 our NEC will always need to be alive to tactical questions in particular cases. There's no single correct way to fight victimisation - and sometimes private political pressure can deliver a sensible result where an immediate public campaign would entrench positions unhelpfully.

However, what our Conference has told our NEC, by passing Motion 53, is that we have no higher priority than the defence of our activists - and that means that, whilst we may not immediately highlight every case, no UNISON activist will ever be victimised for their union activities without those responsible being held to account in public - and where employers fail to respond to reasonable pragmatism they should expect the full political weight of our 1.3 million members to fall upon them.

From a great height.

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