Thursday 8 July 2010

TUC's Own Goal

Good to see that the semi-official UNISON Active blog has come out in opposition to David Cameron's invite to address TUC Congress.

The decision was taken at a meeting of General Council when no UNISON members were in attendance due to our National Delegate Conference happening at the same time, according to UNISON Active. If true it's a disgraceful act by the General Council and we should get some sort of apology from the TUC to UNISON for that.

It is important to talk to your opponents and if the General Council want to meet Cameron it makes sense for them to do so. But an invitation to address any annual conference is a mark of respect, a mark of approval. Only a month before what's likely to be the most savage and ill-timed Spending Review statement in our history, Cameron will deserve no applause from the TUC.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

TUC General Council asked to think again

Read an excellent article by my friend Jon Rogers on the madness that is the invitation for David Cameron to address the TUC Congress in September. There's still time to reconsider and on Saturday, South West TUC asked the TUC General Council to do just that by passing this emergency motion.

"The South West Region TUC deplores the recent decision of the TUC General Council to invite David Cameron to address TUC Congress 2010, and asks the General Council, in the urgent interests of trade union unity against this Government's austerity measures, to reverse this invitation."

I call on the General Council and in particular the nine members of UNISON on that body to heed the call. Inviting Cameron to address us has no upside that I can see but plenty of downside.

Public Sector Redundancy Payments

News comes from the Guardian about a spiteful bit of work by the Government to unilaterally reduce the amount of redundancy pay, if (when) they are made redundant.

The Civil Service scheme is generous, even compared to the rest of the public sector, but the government's not even attempted to negotiate over this, just sent the unions a letter that in Francis Maude's own words is non-negotiable. Frankly that's disgusting behaviour from this government.

Monday 5 July 2010

Tax Havens

Here's my speech on Motion 2 at the National Labour Link Forum. The excellent motion from Eastern Region passed unanimously and commits the Labour Link to push for more information sharing and tax harmonisation to stop the rich getting away without paying their fair share.

Vice-Chair, Forum, Andy Dowland, National Labour Link Committee pleased to express the National Committee’s full support of this motion and thanking the Eastern Region for submitting it.

It is said that “Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilised society”. Multinational corporations reap the benefits of our civilised society. We educate their future employees, provide healthcare to them when they are sick, build infrastructure that they can use and have established a rule of law to protect their assets. But some corporations do not wish to pay the price to sustain that society.

To give just one example: Over the last two years, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation reported an operating loss of 270 million US Dollars, but by moving money here, money there, claiming rebates where they could and paying taxes only when it was absolutely necessary, they turned that loss into a 2 billion dollar profit.
I don’t think David Cameron’s going to bother changing that cosy arrangement.

Now it’s not just multinationals that can play this game – While it might be difficult to tell where News Corporation are based, our football clubs are clearly based out of one town or city. Not really. Tottenham aren’t based in London, the company’s are based in the Bahamas, Rangers aren’t based in Glasgow, their home is Jersey. Our host city’s own team Leeds United. Possibly based in the Cayman Islands but no-one’s quite sure, least of all their Chairman, who had to tell a court that he didn’t have the foggiest idea who owns the club.

14 members of the Premier League not paying their fair share of tax in the country were they do all their business. Leaving it to their fans and the rest of us to pay for the civilised society that they benefit from.

Do the Tax Havens benefit? No, they get into the position of being dependent on a few rich men. When the Belize authorities investigated Lord Ashcroft’s bank for alleged money-laundering, they halted the case for fear that he might withdraw from Belize and wreck their economy. The likes of Lord Ashcroft don’t want tax havens like Belize to develop economically because then their power would be ended.

As the motion says a multilateral approach is needed. The last Labour Government made some steps in that direction. Now we must shame the Coalition into continuing that work.

More information

More transparency

More tax paid by the rich so the poor don’t have to subsidise them.

Please support this motion.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Originally posted by me on Digital Spy's Politics Forum in response to an Opening Poster (OP) ranting about our "gold plated pensions":

I've come late to this thread because I'm busy working at UNISON's national delegate conference. Yes, I'm one of the nasty public sector union people that the OP was complaining about. During yesterday's proceedings, Paul Moist of the Canadian Union of Public Employees gave us a speech where he pointed out that the real pensions scandal is that Private Sector workers have had their decent pensions stolen from them by their employers.

Most large private sector employers used to offer Defined Benefit pension schemes were the employee would contribute a small amount of their wages and the employer would put money into the pot too. The reasons why they have been closed have been variously put as "we can't afford it any more" and "people are living much longer now". Neither of those are true, the real reason is that employers prefer to have the money to add to their profit rather than provide for their employees' old age.

In 1981 (I chose the year because we were in a recession that year too) Defined Benefit schemes were almost universal in private as well as public sector. The country earned £256bn that year. In 2009 the country earned £1.396trn, but as the pound now is worth only 31.6% of a 1981 pound that is equivalent to £441bn in 1981 prices. Britain now is 72% richer than it was 28 years ago and we could afford decent pensions then.

Is it because we're living longer, again, that doesn't stack up. In 1981 if you lived till 60 (the usual retirement age then) you could expect on average to live to 75. Now if you live till 65 (again, the usual retirement age) you can expect on average to live to 81. That's 1 more year of post retirement life. Considering the increase in wealth, we can easily afford that, and if we can't we could increase employees contributions (as the NHS recently did, my contribution went up from 6% to 6.5%).

Ironically as many more private sector workers will have to rely on means-tested benefits to have a basic retirement income, taxpayers are funding their pensions more than they are funding the public sector pensions.

Now that the private sector workers have had their pockets pinched, this government are pointing to the public sector workers and saying "it's not fair, they've got more than you". We're not the enemy though, the bosses, the rich, they have your money. If the government succeed in making public sector retirees poorer, it won't make the private sector retirees any richer.

I do think that it's not fair that the public sector have decent pensions and the private sector doesn't. But my solution is that the private sector should have decent pensions too. If you want to fight for that, the unions want to help.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

It's been a long time...

It has been a long time and when I retire I'll talk all about it, but I am back.

This post is about when to be reasonable and when it's best not to be. I think I move across the line of reasonableness sometimes but here's my views. I'm not particularly left wing - I used to be called "Son of Blair" in Yeovil Labour Party and at the time actually enjoyed the label. A few years later I was being called a Trot in Mabledon Place, headquarters of UNISON, again I wasn't offended in the slightest. What I do passionately believe in is serving UNISON, fighting for our members' rights and doing the right thing for my class. But in that I've always been pragmatic, going for what works rather than what the dogmatically correct path might be. I've always been happy to grab the half-loaf if that's the only thing that can be on offer.

So that brings me to Amendment 58.1 at UNISON's national delegate conference. Written by Tower Hamlets branch it condemns the waste of our money on PFI schemes and called for them all to be brought back under public ownership with compensation only on the basis of proven need. Is it realistic? Not currently, even Railtrack shareholders had to be compensated when they were forced to sell up to Network Rail. My good friend James Anthony called it a fantasy policy. But it's the right policy and here's why.

Everything that the union movement and the working class has ever achieved has at one point been called unrealistic. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were unrealistic when they thought they could form a trade union. Michael Sadler was unrealistic when he thought that children under age nine should have to go to school rather than be forced to work. Harriet Taylor was being unrealistic when she argued that women should have the vote. If everyone in history only settled for what's achievable then we would be still living in caves and explaining to each other why we shouldn't bother trying to make fire ourselves.

I think that we shouldn't be ashamed to say what we believe, we might have to settle for less, but if we don't try, we can't succeed. If we stop fighting now, the government will see us bit by bit back into being mere serfs and the sooner UNISON's leadership realises what a fight we're in the better.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Not all Tory union laws were bad

"Repeal Thatcher's trade union laws" is still a cry that will get you a round of applause at any Trade Union gathering. But among all the hateful legislation that the Tories did put in, there's a couple that I actually like.

The first is that General Secretaries must be elected on one member, one vote. Of course I would hope that all unions would do that without the law, but maybe some wouldn't.

The second is much more obscure, the establishment of what's now called the Certification Officer. Put simply, the CO is the person you can go to if you think a union has broken it's own rules, kind of like an ombudsman.

I'm a bit late to it because I was on holiday, but Bob Oram, UNISON NEC and last heard of being heckled at National Delegate Conference has posted on the usually excellent UNISON Active blog that the CO is a government imposition on the freedom of trade unions.

If that's the case, it's a imposition that's been used lightly, in the last 10 years, the CO has heard 17 cases of which 4 have been upheld, 2 enforcement orders have been made and 1 of those was successfully appealed against by the union.

If it's used so infrequently, why is it important? It's important because it gives our members confidence that if the union breaches rules at the highest level, there's someone independent to appeal to. It gives reassurance that the NEC will act in the best interests of the membership. No organisation is perfect and the CO is there to catch the times when the NEC does fall down. That's not an imposition, that's a good thing.

So, for maybe the only time I might say it, thanks Thatcher for the Certification Officer.

General Secretary update

In the interests of fairness, I should mention that Paul Holmes now has a group on Facebook as well.

Monday 1 February 2010

The runners are on their marks

A snap General Secretary election has been called by the National Executive Committee and from Thursday through to 1st April, branches, regions, service groups and the NEC itself will be asked to nominate candidates for the election.

To get on to the ballot paper, candidates will need the support of the NEC, two service group executives, two regional councils or 25 branches.

During the nomination period, this blog will be neutral, there's a hustings being organised for 3rd April and I'll decide after hearing each candidate which one, out of those actually on the ballot paper I'll support and vote for.

At the moment there's two declared candidates with rumours of a third.

Dave Prentis
, incumbent General Secretary, wants another five year team. His campaign has launched into high gear with a facebook group with over 100 members already.

Paul Holmes, branch secretary for Kirklees Local Government, announced his candidacy yesterday. He's not put much out but he's worried some Dave Prentis supporters judging from this attack on the UNISON Active blog.

Roger Bannister, branch secretary for Knowsley Local Government, is rumoured to be standing, but I haven't seen anything to confirm that yet.

I do think it's disappointing to say the least that a union with 80% female membership doesn't have any female candidate to lead the union. It's not like there aren't credible candidates out there.

Sunday 31 January 2010

Blair wasn't a Bliar

I've got a lot of time for John McDermott, my comrade in UNISON's Yorkshire and Humberside region who was cheated out of a seat on our NEC and now being disciplined for protesting about being cheated.

I have got a different view on Iraq than him, I supported it at the time, with hindsight I think the opportunity cost was too great, but unlike the Tories, I don't pretend that I wasn't in favour originally. John's got a different view and that's okay. What's not okay is him repeating the Tony Bliar misspelling in his latest blogpost. Blair made clear that he made the decision in good faith, Chilcot's unlikely to report otherwise (if there was a conspiracy, someone would have spilled the beans long before now). Blair was Prime Minister to make tough decisions like that.

There's good people on both sides of the argument and it's rather juvenile for John to demean Blair for making what he thinks was the wrong decision.

UNISON Regional Labour Link Forum 30th January 2010

Jackie Fleming's already blogged on the Labour Link Forum here but here's my report too.

We rattled through the business of the day, including my report on the work of National Labour Link, ably assisted by Rachel Voller, one of the committee's vice-chairs.

The main course of the day was a Question and Answer session with local Labour MPs Dawn Primarolo (Bristol South), Jim Knight (South Dorset) and David Drew (Stroud). Later we were joined by Alison Seabeck (Plymouth Devonport) for a mini Q&A at the end of the meeting.

Jim focused on the choice in the General Election between Labour and the Tories. As Employment Minister he was glad that unemployment appears to have peaked (as February is usually the worst month for employment, the figures could go up slightly before falling). Unemployment here is better than the EU and G7 averages precisely because we have kept our public services going. Jobcentre Plus has done great work, getting half of all newly unemployed back to work within 3 months and 70% within 6 months.

Management of the economy is good too. Despite being ridiculed at the time, Alastair Darling's predictions are still bang on target. We're going to repay the deficit, but when the country can afford it. According to David Blanchflower, George Osborne's policies would double unemployment and send us into a depression.

Dawn said that we'd repaid debt caused by Tory mismanagement at the start of this Labour Government. But debt itself isn't bad if it's keeping people in work. There will be developments shifted back or cancelled due to less tax money coming in but that's nothing compared to what the Tories would do. You need public services more in recession. Investing in schools throughout this government's term has resulted in the gap in achievement being narrowed, more disadvantaged children get to university now, up from 1 in 9 to 1 in 5.

But Tory policies, ending Tax Credits, closing Children's Centres, would damage that. To have tax credits and children's centres only for the very poorest would stigmatise people away from using those services. It isn't true that Britain is broken. The Tories would end secured tenancies for council tenants, breaking up communities. Dawn also referred to the Equality Bill, confident that it would be passed before the wash up at the end of the Parliament.

David didn't have much to add to that, but explained that we can already see what the Tories are like in the way they have run local councils where they have got in. Things are a lot better now than in 1997 and we need to get the message out.

Alison did cover some ground that the others did but she emphasised that we need to actually get out there and talk to people, the Tories have got lots of glossy posters and letters but we are more real and that can work for us. She was asked about the Ham by-election where Labour increased it's majority from 49 to 567 just by working hard and meeting as many voters as possible. She answered my question about the Hoon/Hewitt coup attempt by saying that it had "lanced the boil" before there were still some mutterings, but now the PLP is united in support of Brown.

Thanks to all four MPs for travelling to Taunton to meet us and we'll be doing all we can to support them and all Labour MPs and PPCs in the coming election.