Saturday, 13 April 2013

Everytime Thatcher's memory is defiled it strikes a blow for the downtrodden

I was just 17 when the Conservatives won the 1979 general election.
Two years later I started work and joined the union.
So for most of Thatcher's reign I was actively opposing her cruel agenda.
She wasn't just another nasty Tory.
Thatcher used all the paramilitary and quasi-legal brutality available to the state to smash opposition.
Trades unionists were beaten and charged by horses. Black and Asian people were dying in custody. Unarmed Irish republicans were shot dead. Democratically elected politicians were banned from the radio and TV.
The 1979 Conservative election campaign was a series of lies.
'Labour isn't working' said the billboards showing queues at dole offices. In the next few years unemploment more than doubled with three million jobless.
No-one will believe this - so here's a linkbut the Tory campaign in 1979 deliberately set out to woo trades unionists by frequently promising "free collective bargaining" in response to a Labour policy of wage restraint.
By 1983 they were introducing draconion laws which made it unlawful for trade unions to give each other any meaningful industrial solidarity, and made organising industrial action a legal minfield of boss-friendly loopholes and delays.
But the most shame-faced lie was to the world's media outside 10, Downing Street, after her election victory.
She quoted St Francis of Assisi including: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony" and "where there is despair, may we bring hope."
It's clear from the unprecdented celebrations after her death that the harmony was only ever in her head.
And where there used to be jobs-for-life and a narrowing gap between rich and poor she brought the misery of unemployment - deliberately created as a 'necessary evil'. That meant poverty, suicides, crime, drugs, and broken families.
Thatcher was a close personal friend of Pinochet - a brutal Chilean dictator who overthrew a democratically elected socialist government with an armed insurrection.
Unbelieveably she used his regime for her economc model. UK markets, in areas like coal, were opened up to cheap foreign competition; state-owned utilities and other industries like steel, aviation, and car-making were privatised; trade unions were restricted.
My memory is that before Thatcher people looked out for each other. No-one complained about paying tax for health, or education, or the welfare state.
And if you needed solidarity you went to the two groups of workers with the strongest traditions - miners and printers.
Once they had been beaten - by poilce brutality and occupations of mining areas, the jailing of strikers on made-up and trumped-up charges, and the seizing of all the unions' funds - almost everyone else was intimidated into silence.
It had been a close call. The miners managed to stay on strike for more than a year because they had the active support of millions of people.
It seems incredible now to think that theLabour Party encouraged its members to pay a monthly levy for the hardship fund.
Tins were rattled on high streets many miles from coalfields, and childless people added baby food to their weekly shopping so it could be collected and transported to mining communities.
But we lost because at vital moments trade union and Labour leaders failed to offer the maximum support. Instead of mobilising these millions to take solidarity strike action and march on parliament they worried about what the Daily Mail would say.
When mass non-payment of the poll tax was organised Thatcher fell.
That's the lesson of her years - we can only win if we fight as hard as they do.
That's why this last week has been brilliant.
Because Thatcher might have won but she couldn't destroy us.
The strikers, the rioters, the non-payers, and the baby-food buyers are still here - embedded amonst the Daily Telegraph readers and Radio Four listeners.
And this week - with their children and their grandchildren - they have crossed a line into unprecedented territory.
Partying over a death and getting a hate song into the charts are remarkably poigniant symbols of resistence.
The mass media seem to have been taken by completely by suprise and are fanning the flames of revolt with the oxygen of publicity.
Every collective action to defile Thatcher's memory is a beacon of hope to the downttrodden and the dispossessed
Every worker scraping to do enough hours to make a living on the minimum wage has a chance to see what caused their plight.
Who knows why -but while Thatcher lived many people's fighting spirit hibernated.
Now anything seems possible.
Celebrate, educate, organise.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Why I don't think the Labour Representation Committee should adopt Labour Briefing magazine

I don’t see the Labour Representation Committee as another left group trying to sell a paper.
I see it as the confederation that brings together the biggest possible coalition of left groups, socialist individuals and trade unionists – to fight against misery and for hope, both inside and outside the Labour Party.
With six national trade unions affiliated, 70 union branches, 35 other organisations, 23 Labour Party bodies, and 17 local LRC groups we are well on the way.
For this to succeed we must be tolerant – welcoming affiliates and members with whom we agree on most things – but not everything.
I think having a magazine that lays down the line of the LRC national committee would be a block on our ambition – and would work against us having the widest possible cross-section of affiliates.
It would be a better strategy to use the time and effort planned for the magazine to encourage supporting unions and bodies to give more coverage to the activities of the LRC – thus reaching new people, rather than the ones we are already meeting.
If most LRC activists disagree – fair enough.
But please start something fresh – don’t adopt the baggage that comes with Labour Briefing.
If the LRC is to become a mass movement it must appeal to a new generation of activists, mainly outside the Labour Party, and across Britain, in a spirit of co-operation and respect.
Labour Briefing is old fashioned, inward-looking, London-centric and has a reputation for hateful fallings-out among its leading supporters.
The LRC shouldn’t go near this accident that’s already happened.
So, as a regular purchaser of the magazine, I will be going to the Briefing annual meeting which is on Saturday, July 7, from noon, at the University of London union, Malet Street, central London, WC1E 7HY.
Briefing readers, contributors, sellers etc can attend and vote on whether the LRC should adopt the magazine.
I’ll be voting for any resolutions that keep the magazine as far away as possible from LRC.
I hope there will be a big turnout so the decision is taken with the wisdom of the crowd.
And once this diversion is over I hope we will unite and turn our fire on the real enemy who are trying to turn our youth into slaves, our sick into commodities, and our elderly into cheap labour.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Labour and union funding - an explanation

In the early 1900s the trade unions set up the Labour Representation Committee to do what it says on the tin - represent workers in the political arena.
That morphed into the Labour Party.
Without rich supporters the unions started a small levy on their thousands of members to fund their party.
That arrangement is still in place.
Hundreds of thousands of members of affiliated unions still pay what is called the 'political levy'.
For that they get a type of associated membership which gives them a vote in the electoral college that chooses the Labour Party leader and deputy leader.
It's not one big donation - its lot's of tiny membership fees. Union members can opt out of paying.
It's transparent and built into the party's and the unions' democratically decided rules.

It is nothing like the huge donations from super-rich individuals, stitched-up in secret meetings and coming from offshore tax havens, that fund the Conservative Party.

Every time someone repeats Tory spin about Labour and union funding we must point them to these facts.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

It's time for everyone to file a pension grievance

As the public sector pension dispute starts to unravel there is one highly effective tactic that hasn't yet been tried.
Everyone who is facing a change to their pension should take out an individual grievance.
It would cause chaos with employers having to organise millions of hearings - and millions of appeals.
Now is the perfect time as some changes are due to be imposed from April 1.
Changes to individual contracts should only happen after consultation. This has clearly not happened.
DON'T take out collective grievances - that's too easy for managers to deal with.
This is a tried and trusted tactic.
When I was National Union of Journalists' northern organiser we regularly used guerilla grievances to stop or seriosuly modify detrimental contract changes empolyers wanted to impose.
We did it at Sheffield Newspapers, Bradford Newspapers, the Bury Times, Bolton Evening News, Yorkshsire Coast Radio, and the Lancashire Telegraph in Blackburn, to give some examples.
Follow this link for a report on one of these instances - under the heading 'just say no' -
http://blog.calderdalenuj.org/2006_10_01_archive.html
These are smaller groups of workers - imagine the impact if millions of grievances landed on the desk of public sector managers.
Line managers and union reps wouldn't be able to work for weeks - possibly months - as the hearings were held.
This action can be taken by members of unions with leaders that have called off strikes. Even non-union workers can join in.
I hope the March 28 walkout goes ahead with the biggest numbers possible.
Mass grievances - run concurrently - would show the government, and union leaders, that these changes are not acceptable.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Various reports of PCS Left Unity pensions conference

Left Unity is a group of socialists that inludes many leading figures in the Public and Commercial Services union.

Yesterday (Saturday 7 January) they hosted a conference in London for activists in all unions to discuss the dispute over public sector pensions that lead to a strike of two million workers in November.

It was unanimously agreed to oppose the pension proposals currently on the table, to urge the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to call another strike.

It was also agreed that, if the TUC doesn't organise another walkout, those unions that want to fight on should meet as soon as possible to discuss the next stage of the campaign.

Here are some reports of the event:

The Guardian: Public sector pensions dispute at 'pivotal moment', says Serwotka
Workers' Liberty: Meeting calls for NUT to "name day" for future pension strikes
Jon's union blog: Unity against miserablism
Red Pepper blog: Pensions: Keep united and step up the fight
Permanent Revolution: Left Unity conference refuses to name the day for strike action
Morning Star: Unions lay out 'line in the sand' on pensions
Socialist Party: Organising to step up the pensions struggle
National Shop Stewards' Network: Organising the fight back against pensions sell out
The Way I See Things blog: Fair pensions for all, no to any sell outs, reject and carry on the fight
Coventry Socialist Party: Successful meeting to organise the pensions dispute

Union News: Report from the conference in the weekly podcast

VIDEO: PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka's speech to the event

CLARIFICATION: I am currently working for PCS on a freelance basis.

Monday, 7 November 2011

National Union of Journalists national executive election results

London seat:
Elected - Pierre Vicary, Tom Davies, Kate Bohdanowicz, Phil Sutcliffe/Fiona O'Cleirigh.

South east of England seat:
Elected - Jim Boumelha, Sian Jones, David Campanale.

Newspapers seat:
Elected - Len Mulholland.

North east of England seat:
Elected - Adam Christie

Thanks to everyone who voted for me in London. I was last-but-one.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fire Brigades Union decides not to ballot over pensions

FBU Executive Council statement (18 October 2011)

The FBU Executive Council today (18 October 2011) considered the latest developments in talks between the union and government on pensions.

As a result of these considerations, the Executive Council agreed at this stage to refrain from initiating an immediate ballot for strike action.

The FBU remains totally opposed to the attacks on public sector pension schemes. The campaign to defend public sector pensions is part of a wider campaign to defend good quality public services. We are opposed to the austerity programme of the coalition government which seeks to make working people pay for an economic crisis they did not cause. The campaign to defeat the attacks of the coalition government needs the maximum unity of the trade union movement as well as the support and involvement of the wider community, including students and young people, pensioners and others. It is a campaign which will involve prolonged political campaigning and industrial action where necessary. The FBU continues to support the campaign of all unions and of the TUC against the various attacks we face, including on our pensions.

Scheme-specific talks

The discussions on pensions have recently moved into a new phase, involving detailed discussions within each scheme. The FBU did not support this move at the time since key principles (retirement age, contribution increases etc) had not been resolved through central talks between the government and the TUC. However, once scheme-specific talks had begun it became our job to ensure the best possible outcome for FBU members. All our activity has been to this end.

The FBU and the wider trade union movement have clearly stated that occupational pension schemes must take account of the needs of the relevant occupation. We believe there are a number of such specific factors in relation to the fire and rescue service, in particular around the physical demands of the profession and the very high contribution rates already paid by firefighters.

The FBU has produced a range of evidence, supported by experts on issues including:
• Contribution rates
• Retirement age
• Control members’ access to the fire service scheme

We have presented this evidence to government Ministers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and sought talks on the issues in each. It is clear that the outcome of this process is largely dependent on the decisions to be made by the Westminster government.

Cost ceilings

The FBU raised concerns at the proposal to introduce ‘cost ceilings’ for each scheme. We argued that these would set a financial straitjacket for discussions. We wrote to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles on 5 August asking for the cost ceiling not to be set, at least until such time as we were able to outline our various concerns and positions and present the evidence we have collated.

The government’s initial position that cost ceilings would be set on 1 October was the trigger which caused the union to register trade disputes in all parts of the UK on 14 September.

However, the Treasury confirmed on 7th October that a cost ceiling for the firefighters’ schemes (excluding the LGPS) would be delayed until later in the autumn. This delay is clear shift in position and is a direct result of the request made by the FBU and the various issues we have raised in relation to our schemes. This does not in any way resolve the challenges we face but is, nevertheless, a welcome move.

The union is now engaged in detailed dialogue with government officials, including government actuaries. In this we seek to expose the flaws and failings in the government figures and claims. We are confident we have very powerful and robust arguments. We are confident that any genuinely open consideration of the issues we have raised would lead to significant changes in the government’s position. It remains to be seen whether such a change will take place.

Timetable

The move to scheme-specific talks has now highlighted a number of differences regarding timescales in relation to the discussions in the various pension schemes:
• Consultation (for England) on contribution rates for the fire service schemes does not end until December 2.
• Cost ceilings for the firefighters’ schemes will be set considerably later than for other schemes.

Industrial action

The Executive Council remains firmly committed to defending fire service pensions. At branches throughout the UK, FBU members have already voted strongly in favour of strike action if it is necessary. We are confident that if such a call is made it will receive overwhelming support from members.

Discussions continue and the government has agreed to our request to delay the setting of cost ceilings in order to allow us to examine the basis for their proposals and for them to consider our evidence. We are also mindful that members expect industrial action to be taken as a last resort and when further negotiation is futile. Our conclusion at this time is that such a point has not been reached. Therefore the Executive Council has agreed at this stage to refrain from initiating an immediate ballot for strike action.

Should progress not be made in talks, the Executive Council will launch a ballot for strike action as agreed at annual conference 2011. Any such action called will be determined, meaningful and will be coordinated with other unions as appropriate.

TUC Day of Action: November 30

The FBU is fully committed to supporting the TUC day of action and will urge members to join with other workers in protesting against the attacks on pensions and other austerity measures. We urge the government to engage in meaningful negotiations with other unions in their pension scheme-specific talks.