Friday, 23 October 2009

The BNP and No Platform Policies

Well, after the best hours worth of tv to come out of Television Centre in many years, I think that could be said to have been useful. The BNP must be held up to ridicule for its attitudes, policies and outright racism, and I think the BBC was right to do so.
No platform policies do not work. It didn't work when the UK government tried to suppress Sinn Fein by barring their leaders from being heard. It doesn't work in Trade Unions when the central heirarchy tries to suppress factions and groups: they just keep coming and getting bigger. If you aren't allowed to talk about it, people instinctively want to talk about it, and censoring the BNP will just make them (a) more interesting and (b) able to play the martyr card.
From experience talking to people its quite surprising how many don't realise exactly what the BNP stand for, they just see the "no to foreigners" or "british jobs for the brits" etc and tick the box.  A lot of people didn't realise what the NSDAP stood for in the early thirties, if you look at their manifesto (such as it was), the vast majority of their policies seemed reasonable to a people suffering from economic catasrophe (ring any bells). Indeed, some of their policies would not be unpalatable to those of us on the left (nationalisation and increasing the old age pension being two of them).  If all that people get told is what appeals to them, they'll vote for what sounds good.

What we have to do is make sure that the vast majority of decent people in this country don't get conned and vote for them, in the way the German people did in 1933, because they have a facade of reasonableness...and I think we're doing well on that front. However, I think we can do better, and the various anti-fascist movements (why can there never just be one group opposing someone, its not like its the Peoples Front of Judea for crying out loud) need to change tactic. "Denying the BNP the oxygen of publicity" won't get us anywhere, we need to engage them in public debate (although the demos are still a good thing) and make sure people know how vicious they are.
It would also help if there was someone we could tell them to vote for instead. None of the main parties are particularly palatable at the moment, anyone got any suggestions?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Rain Rain go away...

...and don't come back until I'm safely in work.
I wish the weather would go on strike sometimes, so we could just default to sun. It is absolutely belting it down in Plymouth at the moment, and I'm off to the local hospital to accompany someone at an Occupational Health meeting, which should be interesting as I have no idea whereabouts the unit is on the site. I feel some zen navigation coming on.
On the subject of strikes, its interesting to see the brinkmanship the Royal Mail are using to try and get the CWU to cancel their strikes. Anyone would think they were scared of them. Theres been a lot of talk about industrial action in my branch lately, due to redundancies and to changes to terms and conditions (including the possible implementation of a dress code, which has gotten the membership wound up more than anything else so far) and I would like to think that anything we do will be as effective as the action the CWU is threatening: in other words, it will get the employers back round the table before the strike.
Thats one thing that people often forget about the Local Government Strike last year: it did get us an increase in the offer (even if it was a small one after we forced the employer to go to ACAS). Call me naive (and someone probably will) but I think that's an achievement.
Anyways, I must go and find out what time my bus to the hospital is, and try and help support the comrades fighting the privatisation of our local bus company.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Plymouth City Council implemented Job Evaluation from the 1st October 2007. The fact that no-one got their results until Feb 2008, the ballot to accept wasn't until August 08 didn't matter, October 2007 was the date for backpay and grade changes. We got three years pay protection, so it wasn't too bad was it?
Except that it was. There were many appeals, my substantive (a word familiar to many in the union movement, but not neccessarily elsewhere) post was detrimentally affected - I didn't personally lose any money as I was only on the bottom "increment" of the pay scale (Local Government pay has several grades/scales with numerous 'spinal points' in each one), but several colleagues stood to lose a substantial amount of money.
Its ok, we said, we'll do a good appeal (and we had plenty of evidence), and we'll get back to where we should be. So several colleagues spent some time toiling on the appeal document. A year after it was submitted, we got our results back. Some factors had changed (we use the NJC scheme) but the grade was still the same. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth etc etc.
Now, if you'd believed the Council, that was it. No second bite of the cherry, as someone in authority said. But we didn't settle for that. UNISON and Unite lodged a collective grievance, GMB lodged individual ones but on essentially the same grounds. Now we were told that they wouldn't be treated as grievances, and we had all our arguments prepared for the hearings, and the tribunal paperwork had actually been submitted (and bounced back because collective grievances come under the "old" rules -d'oh) when things started moving. We were pleasantly surprised.
We were even more surprised when, this morning, letters arrived informing the affected staff that they had been upgraded. A quick phone call confirmed that, apparently, the backpay won't be an issue. Considering we were expecting a huge fight to just get the Council moving, we see this a huge victory. We are currently looking at pursuing similar claims in other areas.
Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Branch Secretary's work.... never done. It's certainly true. No-one can ever quite quantify exactly what it is we're supposed to do, but I think I've finally found it. If it needs to be done, and we can't find  anyone else to do it, then its our job. Since I was elected in February, I've not looked back. I absolutely love this job, despite all its frustrations and don't know if I'll ever want to stop. However, I know of more than one person with a story to tell about burn out amongst branch secretaries, so I'm keen to not go the same way. I've been assured by domestic gold that she will help keep me in check - and shes done a good job so far.
It has been a steep learning curve - I imagine its the same for any branch sec -  but I've got my objectives for the year (some my own, some courtesy of UNISON's branch assessment) and am (slowly) working towards them. We're currently balloting on some amendments to local terms and conditions - not good ones - so a lot of my time lately has been devoted to that, as well as the redundancies I seem to have been consulting on almost constantly since I was elected. The Council issued an HR 1 for 200 redundancies and 100 vacant post deletions in Feb 2009, and we're no-where near that total.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

South West Regional Council

The second council in a row to finish before lunch - due to a lack of anything controversial to debate- was something of a success for my branch at least. We very nearly had a full delegation (only one seat vacant) and we were proportional - no easy feat as anyone with any experience in UNISON will know-and the Assistant Branch Secretary and myself had some very productive meetings with other activists.
The branch had submitted the maximum three motions, two of which (one on this and one on this) ruled out of order. We have been publicly assured by the Chair of The Labour Link that all of our requests in our motion on expenses were already Labour Link policy, and I believe him, so I shall look forward to seeing the results.
The third motion (which was actually admitted to the agenda) called for the Regional Convenors to sign the Peoples Charter on behalf of the region. Now, I won't go into any detail about the content of the Charter, but its a bloody good stab at getting some kind of general left wing manifesto together. Full details are here, but speaking as someone who spent a not inconsiderable amount of time studying the original Peoples Charter in his youth, it bears pointing out that 5 of the 6 demands in that documnent are now enshrined in our law.
However, the Convenor group pointed out that the Charter states the minimum wage should be "Half median earnings", which works out to roughly £6 an hour. UNISON aims for a substantially higher figure, therefore they couldn't possibly sign it as it would breach UNISON policy.
We were therefore asked to remit the motion in favour of a statement supporting "many of the aims" of the charter, and tieing it in with the Million Voices for Change campaign. Having taken some tactical advice, I decided to remit and bring the motion back "Suitably reworded" to avoid it being voted down, as it no doubt would have been if the committee had lead off with "Its policy ain't it". We shall return.
Also got a chance to plug this (bottom of the page), please try and get along if you are anywhere near Plymouth!
And a big thanks to all comrades who dispensed pearls of wisdom to me over the weekend. Now, I really need to start work on my next project, which is a national rule change proposal....

Political Journey

 I thought I'd write a little bit about my politics.  I used to be a card carrying member of the Tory party, specifically the Young Conservatives back before they tried to rebrand themselves as a swearword.
I've never quite figured out how I ended up a tory, considering my working class background (my father spent many years working in Devonport Dockyard and in industry) but I did. I first became politically active around the 1997 election, taking part in the tory campaign in our school mock election, and also helping deliver leaflets.
Maybe I just have a soft spot for the underdog, I don't know. But when Labour won I was devastated, and began getting sucked in to politics. I attended my first committee meeting, and actually managed to avoid getting elected to a position (I wish I could say this habit would continue).
This continued through to Uni, and I became heavily involved with the Uni Conservative association. I met some very good friends, and when part of the group split off to form a Tory Monday Club, I stayed with the main group. And they say its the left that has problems with splitters!
But it was some time after Uni that I started to realise the Tories weren't for me. In fact, it was when I started working full time that I started to realise that, amongst other things, workers needed far more protection than they had. My early experiences were with private companies, and it was when I moved into the Local Council in 2005 that I started to really lurch to the left.
When our local managers tried to screw a bunch of us over increments and continuous service, we joined UNISON en-mass, and the problem was solved in a matter of days. That was really the turning point for me - actually seeing first hand what a union can do (UNISON has, and still has, a very high density in the part of the council I work for).
When I look back, I've always been left wing on a large number of issues - I've always believed in state ownership of public transport and utilities, and I suppose its a logical extension from there to general public ownership. I've never seen why private healthcare should have any place in this country - if the NHS was properly funded and looked after then there would be absolutely no need for anyone to go elsewhere surely?
Over the last few years, I've become more and more left wing - I think socialism is contagious - and certainly since I became active within UNISON in Feb 08 I'm now firmly entrenched in the left of the general political spectrum - although I'm not quite sure exactly where, although the Labour party manifesto of 1983 sounds like a good place to start.
I could write about my thoughts on political representation of the left, but thats a much longer post.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Committee, work and chocolate

Today is South West Regional Committee. The meeting is being held in Plymouth (in fact just up the road from my office) so I am going to toddle along there shortly. I also need to see the regional Standing Orders Committee as they ruled two of my branches motions out of order. Having sat on their side of the table before, I don't envy them their job, in the same way that there are times that I don't envy (some) managers who are making people redundant. But, in the words of the chair of the National SOC, let us hope a good, constructive, discussion will be had.
Time to make some robust arguments methinks. I may very well reference Comrade Prentis' speech to conference when arguing why our motion calling for an investigation into MPs "linked" with UNISON (ie, those with constituency development plans, a concept I don't quite understand but I'm sure someone will be able to explain to me one day) should be allowed to be discussed. If the General Secretary is allowed to talk about so called 'Labour Link' business, then so should other bodies of the union, surely? Maybe I've missed the point?
Anyways, I suppose I'd better head in. I was going to blog about work and chocolate, but I've just remembered I need to speak to my RO about something and she should be there today.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

CWU strike

At last nights Trades Council a lively young chap (and I think he's younger than me) from the local CWU spoke about how the Royal Mail are using strike busting tactics on an unprecedented scale, coupled with vicious attacks on union activists to try and beat our comrades in that union. Some rather unparliamentary language was used to describe some fellow unionists who are wilfullly breaking the CWU strike, and being bussed across the country to scab.
I personally believe that the CWU are fighting the first battle in the coming war over public sector jobs, and every trade unionist, every socialist, and every member of the working class needs to back the brothers and sisters. I'm probably preaching to the converted, but workplace collections, visits to the picket lines, and simple letters of support will go a long way when there are some offices that have taken 15 days of strike action so far.
I remember how much of a boost we got when the postie wouldn't cross our picket line during the local government strike last year, and how great it was when the local CWU visited our lines with doughnuts.
Solidarity Comrades, we're all behind you.
Oh, and PS, please don't go out in the next two weeks, some of us have ballots going as well!