Friday, October 20, 2017

Evidence of life in UNISON...

For anyone else contemplating stepping aside from onerous trade union responsibilities after a quarter of a century, my advice is to give yourself some space and not to try to pay too much detailed attention to what is going on in relation to matters which are no longer your responsibility.

However, it is good to see that my friends and comrades on the left of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) are making some headway in trying to drive UNISON forward – in spite of the deliberate stuffing of NEC Committees with those in the (very) narrow majority of the NEC who support the failing leadership of the Union.

The official report of this week’s UNISON NEC meeting tells you very little (as ever) – apart from the fact that UNISON is starting a campaign to beat the Government’s pay freeze (as it has been every year for at least the last five years). However, behind the scenes it seems that critical thinkers on the left of the NEC successfully pushed the NEC to take a vote on a proposition (albeit one that was amended on the intervention of the President).

Having spent fourteen years on that NEC I can assure you, dear reader, that getting a vote taken at an NEC meeting on anything that hadn’t been scripted in advance by officials is a very significant achievement – and the fact that the NEC could not itself call for indicative ballots for strike action over pay, but could only encourage Service Group Executives (SGEs) to take such initiatives is a consequence of UNISON’s long established structure.

Whilst anyone waiting for the leadership of UNISON to lead a fight to smash the pay freeze would be ill advised to hold their breath, reports from this week’s meeting show that there is still life within UNISON – and branches should be submitting motions through their Service Groups to keep up the pressure placed upon the leadership as a result of the discussion at the NEC.

If the trade unions are to experience the same sort of surge of growth and interest which the Labour Party has seen in the recent past then trade union leaders – at every level – need to show confidence and a combative spirit to members and potential members.

Good luck to those trying to achieve this.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Today at Parliament...

A Labour Party commitment will keep me from today’s march and lobby of Parliament in support of fair pay for public servants.

This is a shame since I am fascinated by the novel approach of relying upon lobbying and petitioning in order to secure a pay rise – it’s nearly as exciting as changing the world one hashtag at a time and I can only imagine how foolish the founders of our movement would feel now if only they could come and see that it is now possible to achieve one’s objectives without significant sacrifice or struggle.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, this is not a blog post about how the leadership of the trade union movement have repeatedly failed to lead a serious struggle against attacks on the interests of trade union members since the organised capitulation over public service pensions in 2012 (I’ll come back to that topic I’m sure).

So I shall set my cynicism about the TUC and UNISON to one side.

My interest today is in the changes which have been made to the proposals from the Boundary Commissioners to implement the Tories’ gerrymandering plans in England in particular. Revised proposals for changes to the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies have been released today.

From a purely parochial point of view I am pleased that the plans to do away with Brighton Pavilion constituency have been abandoned – but from a national point of view, these unnecessary proposals to reduce the number of elected Members of Parliament (which will doubtless lead to a further increase in the larger number of Members of the unelected House) are a deliberate attempt to increase the chances of the Tory Party in the coming election.

Given that these proposals are all based upon the numbers on the electoral register prior to the increases in the run up to the 2016 referendum and to this year’s General Election, there are compelling arguments to drop this boundary review and start again.

Probably the simplest way to do this would be to bring this rotten Government down as soon as possible.

Now there would be a good reason to go to Parliament…



Friday, October 13, 2017

The political perils of blogs and email

I have not blogged much about local Labour Party matters for the past couple of weeks.

And I won’t now.

I just want to reflect on my experience of saying something online, which I said in good faith, but which turned out to have been ill advised and to have done harm to the wider cause and movement of which I was a part.

I apologised promptly for my actions and offered those to whom I was accountable the opportunity to hold me to account (and to replace me had they wished to do so).

It had all begun with the massive public sector pensions strike on 30 November 2011 – or rather in the small hours of the following morning.

Having played a leading role locally within Lambeth in the most successful strike action I can remember I decided to send an email message to trade union members thanking them for their support for the action.

Because I knew that the email would also be received by the minority of members who had not observed the strike call (and because I knew that those who had most actively supported the strike action were very angry with those colleagues who had not), I addressed a few choice remarks to that minority.

I did not actually “publish” my message to members beyond the circulation of an email, but someone who took umbrage at my remarks passed them to the media – leading to predictable coverage in (among others) “the Sun” and “the Daily Mail”. (I won’t link to them but I imagine they are still out there in cyberspace).

I could have responded to the momentary notoriety of having been described as a “trade union bully boy” in the national press by defending and standing by my remarks. I could have made a principled stand, defending myself with reference to my own track record and the history of our movement – but to have done so would have been divisive and harmful to the wider interests of the trade union at the time.

So, I apologised and promptly withdrew my remarks. I cooperated fully with investigations into my actions (which led to no action being taken against me) and I repeated my apology to the next branch Annual General Meeting a couple of months later, at which I was subsequently re-elected unopposed.

The ease of electronic communication (and of online publication for those of us who are bloggers) makes it easier than ever for an ill-judged remark to travel the world swiftly – and in so doing possibly to bring into disrepute a trade union (or a political party).


My understanding of how easily this can happen predisposes me to sympathy for the author of such a remark – if they subsequently and promptly show contrition and humility and put the interests of the wider movement of which they are a part ahead of their own feelings and personal reputation.