Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Report of the UNISON NEC meeting on 2 September 2015

The meeting commenced with most members in the ninth floor Conference Centre and thirteen NEC members in the first floor audio/video link room.
The NEC sent best wishes to two members who were unwell (Linda Sweet and Max Watson) and remembered deceased activist June Poole, as well as all the migrants suffering around the world.
General Secretary election
The NEC then moved on to discuss a nomination for General Secretary. The President asked those seeking nomination to leave the room and notified the meeting that two members of staff, Dave Prentis and Heather Wakefield, had (as required) given notice that they were seeking election.
Paul Gilroy from the Northern Region nominated John Burgess, Hugo Pierre nominated Roger Bannister, Debbie Potter nominated Dave Prentis, Tomasa Bullen nominated Hayley Garner. The voting was as follows;
Roger Bannister – 4
John Burgess – 16
Hayley Garner – 1
Dave Prentis – 32
Abstentions – 1
Organising report
The meeting then moved on to discuss the organising report. Recruitment is down on the last couple of years which is alarming given the challenges we face. The Government is to withdraw all funding for trade union training and for union learning activities. The union is having to consider how to run trade union training in future.
General Secretary’s report – Trade Union Bill
Dave Prentis then gave the General Secretary’s report, starting with the campaign against the Trade Union Bill. This led to a wide ranging discussion, during which the President confirmed that the written report to the NEC meeting would be revised for urgent circulation to branches (and throughout the Union).
Dave illustrated the draconian impact of the Bill if enacted with the fact that there had been 101 industrial action ballots since January 2014. Very few would have met the thresholds – only 23 would have been legal. 72 met the 50% turnout threshold but didn’t meet the total 40% of total membership threshold for strike action in “essential services”.
The Union’s response will be to campaign against the Bill in Parliament, through legal challenges, by engaging our activists, members and the wider public including through mass action (at the demonstration in Manchester on 4 October and the lobby of Parliament on 2 November). At the same time, we will need to prepare ourselves so that we can continue to function if the Bill becomes law, reviewing our industrial action procedures, our support for branches coping with reduced facility time and – crucially – our capacity to switch members from paying by DOCAS to Direct Debit.
General Secretary’s report – other matters
Dave then reported on other matters;
·         UNISON Labour Link had decided to endorse Jeremy Corbyn, who is the one candidate who supports all UNISON’s policies;
·         UNISON lost our case in the Court of Appeal against employment tribunal fees and will be appealing to the Supreme Court;
·         Camden branch members striking today against NSL for the Living Wage, to whom Dave sent a message of support;
·         Members in the Probation service are being transferred to Direct Debit. We have 40% of members signed up with only four weeks to go.
A number of issues were raised in questions, concerning the vital importance of supporting victimised activists, highlighting the perilous state of adult social care reliant upon private sector provision and the public sector exit payment cap (about which I asked that UNISON circulate our comments made in the recent consultation).
Further contributions were made welcoming UNISON’s support for Jeremy Corbyn and the decision of the Scottish Government to abolish employment tribunal fees in Scotland, and asking about UNISON’s response to changes in tax credits (which will massively hit lower paid workers with children) and support for the campaign in defence of overseas nurses. In responding, Dave Prentis made an impassioned plea for fair treatment of migrants and refugees, which will be made public.

Pope still Catholic. Bears...

‎The UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) has voted to nominate Dave Prentis in the election for UNISON General Secretary.

Dave got 32 votes to 16 for leading left challenger John Burgess, 4 for Roger Bannister, 1 for Hayley Garner and 1 abstention. The NEC has 65 members in total.

Whilst the Prentis camp will claim this as a significant result it is really as expected as Papal Catholicism and the arboreal toilet habits of ursine mammals.

‎What is remarkable is that the NEC nomination was decided by a minority of NEC members - and that a rank and file challenger, John Burgess of the Barnet branch made the strongest showing in such a vote of any left candidate in UNISON.

I will blog a further report of the NEC meeting later - but thought I should report this now for a particularly eager reader.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lord Sainsbury to fund new political organisation? - Egress to replace Progress

‎I'm not sure that any of what follows is true and urge caution to all readers.

Sources close to right-wing Blairite group "Progress" have allegedly revealed that their funder, Lord Sainsbury, will be funding a new organisation ("Egress") intended to capture and develop their brilliance.

The plutocrat, who has given essential financial backing to Progess in order to develop the labour movement careers of those who believe that privatisation is the future for public services,‎ is reportedly concerned that those who have followed his lead may have no future if the country faces a clear choice between Cameron's festival of reaction on the one hand and Corbyn's honest democratic socialism on the other.

Sainsbury has therefore, it is alleged, funded "Egress" as the successor organisation to "Progress" in order to recognise his personal responsibility to those who followed his lead in the failed attempt to win the Labour Party to support austerity.

"Egress" will facilitate the exit from the labour movement of those who believe that the public sector should be shrunk and that the private sector offers a dynamic option for the delivery of public services, now that it is clear that their ideas have been defeated and that they have no future in politics.

Although Lord Sainsbury is wealthy, he is not omnipotent and cannot therefore offer the Progress-supporters in the Labour Party all the power and influence for which they would have hoped.

However, having a decent sized family firm, he is in a position to make realistic offers of future employment to those who no longer have a future in the labour movement or Labour Party.

"Egress" will reportedly be able, therefore, to offer the following options to those who mistakenly thought there was a career in winning the Labour Party to the neoliberal orthodoxy;

(1) MPs who have nominated Liz Kendal will be offered a management position in a large supermarket;
(2) Labour Councillors who have been Cabinet Members committed to balancing the budget at all costs will be offered the position of head of department in a large supermarket, or senior management responsibility in a "local" shop;
(3) Rank and file supporters of Progress will be offered a thousand extra points on their Nectar card.

It is understood that Blairites are now divided between those who want to welcome "Egress" and those who believe that a true understanding of New Labour economics leads only to support for discounters (who may become known as "Lidl bit New" Labour).

I can't vouch for the truthfulness of any of the above.

But then Progress have never been transparent about anything they have done before, so who knows?

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Labour Right - not purging but drowning?

I'm inclined to accept the analysis in the New Statesman above, and to accept that the so-called "#LabourPurge" is neither intended nor likely to alter the outcome of the leadership election at a national level (albeit some individual disqualifications of particular would-be supporters arise from the initiative of local activists who would wish that it might do both).

Those of us who want to see a Corbyn victory - and beyond that a thorough transformation of the Labour Party into an effective voice for working people - should be careful about lending further credence to criticisms of the electoral system which we hope will deliver that victory.

As a Labour Party member in Brighton I know many good socialists, who share the true Labour values of Jeremy Corbyn, but who have supported the Greens locally (and in Brighton Pavilion) in recent years. Such has been the bad blood between Green and Labour activists in the town that it is hardly surprising if local Labour activists have highlighted high profile local Greens registering as Labour supporters (whose registrations will not then have been accepted).

As a trade unionist in Lambeth (where, if Liz Kendall's rightly doomed campaign still had a beating heart it might quite likely be located) I know many good socialists who also share the true Labour values of Jeremy Corbyn, many of whom have (mistakenly in my view) supported foolish electoral challenges to Labour from the left. Again, it is not surprising if local Labour Party members have highlighted applications to register as supporters from those supporting candidates against Labour candidates in the recent past.

In each locality, and wherever good comrades are denied a voice, this injustice will understandably be provoking anger. I am angry at some of the cases of which I have heard.

I don't think any of this is right (though as a lifelong Labour leftwinger I never supported the introduction of the category of "registered supporters" nor the new Collins-inspired election rules which, at a stroke, have disenfranchised millions of trade unionists). However, the electoral system we are stuck with was agreed properly and constitutionally at last year's Special Conference, and what the Party is doing is operating th‎at agreed system.

In order to get beyond the injustice of selective disqualification of registered supporters we need a positive transformation of the Labour Party, of which the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader is the next crucial step. Then we can build a Party into which left wingers disillusioned over the long years of right wing hegemony can be welcomed, not just as supporters‎ but as members of a Party which we will democratise from top to bottom.
Comrades who have been disqualified should inform the Corbyn campaign and then find out how they can help the campaign reach and persuaded the thousands in the electorate who have yet to vote. The more fuss is made now about a "purge" the more we fashion yet another stick with which opponents can try to beat the Leader we are electing.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Labour's future is our collective responsibility

I've voted for Corbyn (and I hope you have too). 

The online fuss about a "purge" may indicate that over zealous party loyalists will shave a few hundred votes from the total cast‎ for the socialist candidate - as the media contribute "guilt by association" stories which try to tar Jeremy Corbyn with utterly implausible charges in the hope that some mud will stick.

No one knows what the result of the leadership election will be - but it is clearly more than possible that the left will win. More than that, we have already seen that the Labour Left is a sizeable and vibrant force.

Now, as Jon Lansman makes clear in the link at the head of this blog post, we need to understand that changing the Labour Party begins rather than ends with this leadership election.

Jeremy Corbyn's election as Party Leader will not, of itself, change a single policy of our Party any more than his defeat would, of itself, rule out a progressive change. Obviously the result may well make a difference to how people vote at Conference or in the National Policy Forum, but it is there that votes will have to be cast.

One of the less well-informed calls I have read this week was the call from Dave Nellist (in the context of a kind offer that TUSC might bring its legions back into the fold) for Corbyn, if elected, to decree that Labour Councils stop making cuts. This is quite beyond the power of the Party Leader (and which socialist would want to be a member of a Party of which it was not?)

A Leader prepared to support rather than denounce bold opposition to austerity can open up space in which such opposition might grow - but it is Party members and trade unionists in each locality who need to nurture such growth (and history shows that local resistance can take place in spite of denunciation from on high).

What we need to do is engage energetically with the Party's democratic structures in terms of policy-making and candidate selection. That first person plural applies to all of us who are enthusiastic supporters of Corbyn's leadership bid.‎ It is much wider than the venerable and worthy organisations extant on the Labour Left - but it does need to find some collective, democratic expression (soon).

If we want to transform the Labour Party we cannot leave this to one man.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Everything has changed

‎I've not blogged much in the last few days because I don't know where the combination of optimism and anger will take me - and in recent years I've been taken to task for calling strike breakers by their given name and for being honest in public about how I felt about the death of a former Prime Minister who hated and despised everything I hold dear.

But today.

Today the press reports that this Government wants mothers seeking tax credits for a third child to prove to officials that they were raped.

‎Today that same Government was exposed for inventing fake benefit claimants with fake quotes to justify their antediluvian benefit "reforms".

And today the two leading "mainstream" candidates to lead the Party into which I was born can do nothing other than squabble about which of them can defeat the socialist candidate for whom I am incredibly proud to have voted.

Now is a time to be angrier than I have ever been, than you - if you care for humans - have ever been. This Tory Government is intent upon undoing every little bit of good we have done in the past century (and more) whilst magnifying all the harm.

Now is also a time for greater optimism than we have ever known. Jeremy Corbyn is on the brink of achieving more than Tony Benn hoped and failed to achieve in 1981, more than the forever disempowered Labour Left has ever imagined we might achieve.

No rule of political or trade union life which any of us has learned applies any longer. ‎The certainties of those accustomed to power are as solid as mist. The firm cynicism of those who know exactly how and by whom we shall be betrayed is a soft as a marshmallow. 

All we can be sure of is which side we are on.

As workers.

As trade unionists.

As socialists.

Our enemy are the Tories.

Our leader is Jeremy Corbyn.

We are angry and optimistic in equal measure.

And everything is changed.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tony Who?

Tony Blair has had the unique privilege of writing his own political obituary.

Such is his desperation to prevent the inexorable progress of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign that he seeks to deploy the authority he believes he still has (even if, as he puts it, “we hate him”).

We no longer hate you.
We don’t even pity you.
We don’t think about you any more.

When you, as Prime Minister, pressed ahead with unjustifiable tuition fees, introduced foundation hospitals to bring privatisation to our NHS and – above all – led us into an unjust war, then we noticed you and disapproved of you.

Since you ceased to be Prime Minister you have shown your true colours as a money-grubbing, attention-seeking wannabe celebrity. It is you yourself who has diminished the legacy you might have had by taking payments without any sense of propriety.

Our neoliberal Ozymandis just doesn't get it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A complacency we’ve seen before?

At the first meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) after the General Election the Committee considered a report on what the Tories were likely to do, based upon what was in their election manifesto.

Foreseeing that the new Government would move against the rational, economical and efficient method whereby members pay their union subscriptions from their wages or salaries (Deduction of Contributions at Source - DOCAS) the Committee unanimously agreed a plan to start moving members to paying by Direct Debit.

This was never a decision to give up on fighting against such an attack (a question which - on the UNISON NEC - is the province of a separate Policy Committee). It was about preparing prudently to protect our organisation from a well advertised attack.

That decision has not been revoked - and indeed the National Delegate Conference agreed an Emergency Composite Motion dealing with both our policy of opposition to such a change and with the need to prepare for the eventuality we hope to avoid.

However, there have been those who have done their best to spread complacency about the likelihood of this attack and the severity of its consequences. The link above shows that, even now we know that the Government aim to legislate away our freedom to agree with our employers how we collect our subscription income within a matter of weeks, the voice of complacency is not silent yet.

It's not true that we have "seen off" attacks on DOCAS in the past. They have cost us members in the 80s and the 90s - and our "success" in persuading Danny Alexander ‎not to go along with this attack under the last Government hasn't prevented our members in what's left of the Probation Service having the deduction of their union subscriptions stopped at the end of this month.

If that is how we "see off" attacks I would hate to see what it looks like when we succumb to them.

Branch activists need to crack on with identifying those members paying by DOCAS and making plans to switch them to Direct Debit. Let us try to stop this attack, including by gathering in our thousands in Manchester on 4 October - but don't let's risk our Union by listening to the voice of complacency.

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