Make 10 July the start of the fightback!

July 9, 2014 at 8:03 pm (AWL, posted by JD, protest, solidarity, unions, UNISON, workers)

Strike 10 July 2014

Adapted from a Workers Liberty leaflet:

Up to two million workers will strike on 10 July.  Members of unions in local government will strike to oppose a 1% pay offer, and are demanding an increase of at least £1 per hour or to the “Living Wage”, £7.65, or £8.80 in London. Other unions involved in the action have their own pay demands.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the cost of maintaining a decent standard of living in the UK has risen by 46% since 2008, while wages have increased by just 9%. It’s the harshest squeeze on real wages in the UK since records began. According to TUC figures, around five million workers in Britain (20% of the total workforce) are paid less than the living wage.

The 10 July strike can be the start of a working class counter-offensive challenging the capitalist logic that demands workers pay for the financial crisis.

We need a plan, not just a day at a time

One-off strike days, each followed by a long wait until union leaders report back or call further action, aren’t nough.

The remedy is not just to convert one-day protest strikes into two-day protest strikes, but to plan continuing action, discussed and decided in advance by union members. This could include limited, selective action as well as all-out strikes and be directed by local strike committees.

Local strike committees should continue meeting after 10 July, and the executives of all the striking unions should meet together.

After 10th July?

Unison’s leaders have already talked about further strikes on 9 and 10 September. Unions should liaise with each other in order to pin down the most effective date, and other actions should be planned between now and then – even small, local events like lunchtime rallies, demos and street stalls.

NHS workers should be brought into the dispute. Unison should act on its 2014 Health sector conference decision to ballot for strikes over pay. Strike funds should be levied at both local and national level to ensure the lowest-paid  workers are supported in taking sustained and escalating action.

On strike days every workplace should be picketed, with pickets approaching non-striking workers and attempting to persuade them not to cross. In 2011 some activists held members’ meetings with discussion and voting – not just set-piece rallies.’ We should organise such meetings this time, as well.

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All Out July 10th!

July 9, 2014 at 12:24 am (Cuts, posted by JD, protest, solidarity, unions, UNISON, Unite the union, workers)

Public sector workers strike

Unison leaflets here

If you can’t get to the London demo, here are the local picket lines and demos:

LONDON & EASTERN

The Woolwich Centre, Wellington Street, Woolwich

Luton Town Centre
5.15 am Morson Road, Depot, Enfield
10.00 am Walthamstow Market Square
(10.45 move to Oxford Circus and assemble outside
Broadcasting House, Great Portland Street for 11.30 am)

Barking & Dagenham
Civic Centre Dagenham
Frizlands Lane Depot
Barking Town Hall
Creek Road Depot

Thurrock
Civic Office, New Road, Grays
Oliver Close Depot, West Thurrock
Curzon Drive Depot, Grays

Redbridge
Ley Street Depot
Town Hall Ilford

Newham
Building 1000, Becton
Town Hall, Barking Road,
Folkstone Road Depot, East Ham

Peterborough
Picket lines:
6.30 am Amey Depot
7.00 am Bayard Place (throughout the day)

EAST MIDLANDS

Northampton
11.30 am Beckers Park, Northampton
12.30 pm Rally at All Saints Plaza

Derby
Picket lines:

5.00 am Stores Road Depot
7.00 am The Council House
7.45 am Middleton House

11.00 am Rally at The Market Square

Chesterfield
11.00 am Rally at Rykneld Square

Leicester
Picket lines:
07.00 am Sulgrave Square
07.00 am Layton Road
07.00 am Blackbird Road

11.30 am Rally at King Street

Lincoln
11.30 am Rally at Brayford Wharf North
12.30 Rally at City Square

Nottingham
Picket lines:
Loxley House
Eastcroft Depot
Eastwood Depot
Nottingham City Homes

10.30 am Rally at Forest Recreation Ground

WEST MIDLANDS

Walsall
Picket lines:
7.30 am Town Hall, WS1 1TW
7.30 am Civic Centre staff entrance & environmental depot
200 Pelsall Road, Brownhills WS8 7EN

10.30 am Sandwell mbc organising a mass demo outside
the council house, oldbury with free transport to the TUC
demo in Birmingham

Stoke
Picket lines

07.30 am. Civic Centre, Swann House
Hanley town hall
Cromer Road depot

Kingsway Stoke, outside the civic centre – rally

NORTH EAST, YORKSHIRE & HUMBERSIDE

11.00 am Northumberland Road (next to City Hall), Newcastle
Northumberland County Council, Stakeford Depot
Durham County Council, Meadowfield Depot
Redcar & Cleveland Council Depot
Middlesbrough Council, Town Hall

SOUTH EAST

Southampton
Marlands
Civic (front & back)
City Depot
Shirley
Southampton Common
Woolston School Base

Portsmouth
Picket lines:
07.30 Green & Clean Depot, Port Royal Street
07.30 Civic Offices, Guildhall Square
08.00 City Museum, Museum Road
10.00 Portsmouth International Port
12.00 pm Rally at Guildhall Square

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No to the PCS-Unite lash-up!

May 16, 2014 at 2:51 am (AWL, labour party, Socialist Party, unions, UNISON, Unite the union, workers)

From the AWL website:

Above: McCluskey and Serwotka

By a PCS activist

The annual conference of PCS, the largest civil service trade union, on 20-22 May will debate a motion submitted by the union’s Executive (NEC) on PCS merging into the big general union Unite.

The motion would instruct the NEC, on completion of talks with Unite, to convene a special delegate conference to debate the terms of “merger” and decide whether to proceed to a membership ballot to authorise the “merger”.

Strictly speaking the “merger” would be a transfer of undertakings. PCS members, staff and assets would transfer into Unite, essentially on the basis of the Unite rulebook (although the PCS leadership is said to be looking for assurances on democracy and PCS membership of Unite decision making committees).

Some PCS members think the leadership is keen on merger because the union’s future looks extremely difficult. With Tory-led Coalition’s austerity drive, PCS has lost a significant number of members since May 2010. In 2013 alone it lost a net average (leavers minus joiners) of 1,600 members each month. Further civil service job cuts are looming.

Moreover the union is under explicit threat of Tory ministers quickly ending the “check-off” whereby civil service departments deduct PCS dues directly from members’ wages and pass them to the union.

The PCS Independent Left, the left wing opposition to the ruling Left Unity/ Democracy Alliance, has said that if PCS is facing financial meltdown then “merger” with Unite has to be supported, irrespective of qualms, simply to keep trade union organisation alive in the civil service and other workplaces where PCS organises.

However the PCS leaders claim that the union is well able to continue as an independent organisation. The PCS Independent Left therefore argues that it should do so rather than transfer members to Unite.

The PCS leaders proclaim that moving PCS to Unite “would create a union able to bridge the traditional divide between unions operating in the public and private sectors so that we can boost our bargaining power.” They do not explain how, for example, the bargaining power of Unite members in a car factory will be boosted by the adhesion of PCS to Unite, or how the bargaining power of civil servants in HMRC or DWP will be boosted by being in the same union as car workers and other trade unionists in the private sector.

The Left Unity/Democracy Alliance has run PCS for eleven years. Over that time it has totally failed to overcome successive governments’ divide-and-rule policy of carving the civil service up into a huge number of “delegated bargaining units” and to regain civil service national bargaining. Yet that same leadership now asserts that merely by joining Unite it will overcome the bargaining divisions between public and private sector workers.

The PCS leadership effectively assumes that union “merger” is a shortcut to the development of wider working-class political awareness and industrial militancy.

The PCS leaders state that “merger” (transfer!) would create “a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members” but has not explained precisely what it sees as the changing industrial circumstances and precisely how this new force within Unite would be better able to deliver for Unite and PCS public sector members. They do not say how the awful defeats PCS has suffered under their leadership would have been avoided if we had been Unite members.

The underlying and only very partially stated argument would seem to be that:

• PCS cannot “win” against the state on its own (winning is rarely defined by the PCS leadership),

• Public sector workers must therefore strike together on pensions, pay, jobs and services (and presumably keep striking until the demands of all the different occupational areas of the striking public sector workers have been satisfied – not a model the PCS leadership followed in the pensions dispute with the last Labour Government)

• Unison and other unions cannot be trusted to do so, as shown by the pensions debacle in November 2011

• If PCS “merges” with Unite and a large public sector group is created, then Unite will be able to call out its civil service, NHS and local authority workers at the same time, and thereby put pressure on Unison and other unions to join with it.

There is plenty of talk about a “new powerful force”, “making a difference”, needing “a more effective trade union fightback in the public sector” and PCS and Unite sharing the same basic approach of being genuine fighters for members. However, nothing has prevented Unite and PCS from calling such joint action before now if they wanted to.

In reality, Unite remains a relatively minor player in the NHS and local government. A fully united public sector fightback would require Unison to play an effective and committed role. That is extremely unlikely under the current Unison leadership.

PCS should certainly agitate for joint action, but has to develop its own independent strategy for winning on issues facing PCS members. There is no short-cut through merger with Unite.

The PCS leaders hint that they see themselves (in Unite) as competing with Unison for authority in the TUC and members in the NHS and local government. They say, “A merged union would become the second largest public sector union. It would be the first public sector union to hold substantial membership in…the NHS, local government and central government.” PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka spoke at last year’s PCS conference of creating a “left wing pole of attraction” in the union movement.

But competition with Unison is unlikely to attract its membership in mass numbers. If a few left-wingers are won over, that will be at the price of them abandoning the fight to replace the leadership in Unison of Dave Prentis or a successor in the same mould chosen in Unison’s next General Secretary poll in 2015.

Mark Serwotka or the Socialist Party, the dominant group in the PCS leadership quite clearly see themselves running Unite’s public sector group. They are certainly not going to give up the leadership of an independent trade union just to play second fiddle in one sector within Unite.

And Socialist Party must have high hopes of dominating Unite’s “United Left” through the much bigger PCS Left Unity membership.

Merger is likely to mean losing PCS’s democratic structures and its actual and potential industrial coherence.

PCS has annual elections at all levels; annual national and group conferences; delegates directly elected by branch members; and a widespread membership understanding of the key industrial issues.

Delegates to Unite’s national conferences are indirectly elected by regional committees and regional industrial sector committees; national policy conference takes place every two years; national rules conference every four years; industrial sector conferences every two years. Elections for the Unite NEC, Regional and Branch Committees are held every three years.

PCS’s very different circumstances enable direct relationships between members and the different levels of the union and within the single “industry” that is the civil service and the private sector support companies that provide services to the civil service. The end result is a membership with common workplace experiences and issues that gives national PCS an explicit and (potentially) unifying coherence of trade union purpose. That makes accountability (potentially) easier to judge and deliver.

There is simply no real industrial logic to merger with Unite.

There is some opposition on the left and right to merger with Unite because of its relationship to the Labour Party. It’s an opposition which either sees PCS in apolitical terms (a union for state employees!) or sees politics purely in terms of standing would be left-wing independent candidates in opposition to the Labour Party. Both are wrong and fail to outline any way in which PCS can help remove the Tories from government, ease the considerable pressures on members, and replace them with a trade-union based party whose leaders need to be opposed and tested with positive working class policies.

For certain an alternative to Labour will not be found through TUSC or similar candidates. Serious socialists opposed to the merger should not get caught up with opposition on sectarian grounds.

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The Unite/PCS deal and the danger of a divided labour movement

May 9, 2014 at 6:56 pm (labour party, posted by JD, reblogged, socialism, unions, UNISON, Unite the union, workers)

We republish, below, an important article by long-standing Labour and Unite leftist, Jon Lansman, from the  Left Futures blog. Jon Seems to share my misgivings about the proposed merger/’transfer’ between PCS and Unite:

 Above: McCluskey and Serwotka discuss a new union … and party?

Discussions are, we hear, proceeding apace between Unite and civil service union, PCS, about what has until now been described within PCS as a merger but at the recent Unite executive (at which Len McCluskey got its backing for formal talks) was described as a “transfer of engagements“, aka “a takeover“. Many details remain to be discussed, but what has already been agreed is that, if it happens, PCS would in January 2015 become part of Unite, under the existing Unite rulebook, with its current Labour Party affiliation arrangements.

It is clear that both Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka are personally very committed to it. As an active Unite member, I’ve been a strong supporter of Len McCluskey in both elections he has fought for General Secretary. I also admire Mark Serwotka, who is an excellent communicator, with progressive and non-sectarian politics, and who is clearly popular with a very large section of his members. But I’m unconvinced of the case for bringing the two unions together, for which there seems to be little industrial logic.

The main motivation for merger talks, according to the pre-conference briefing recently produced for PCS members, is “the creation of a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members.” But Unite is predominantly a private sector union. Whilst it has important groups of workers in health, local government and education, it is a relatively small player in those sectors. The vast majority of PCS members would join Unite’s relatively tiny number of civil service members (mainly in the MoD) in a new civil service sector. But Len McCluskey, interviewed in the same briefing, says:

If you did decide to join us, you would bring invaluable experience. In my opinion it could be the catalyst to creating a very powerful public sector force, linking central and local government, health, and education, to build a much stronger coalition.”

My interpretation of this is that there is no pretence that there is necessarily an industrial logic for a merger today. But creating “the second largest public sector union” today, “a fighting-back union” unafraid of backing workers prepared to take strike action to defend pubic services and their jobs, could be a “catalyst” to becoming the largest public sector union sometime soon.

Certainly, that’s the way some people in Unison see it. It is “a statement of intent to launch a competitive challenge to UNISON in the public services” says the Unison Active website. Some may see that as sour grapes for failing to achieve what Unison Active describes as the”impeccable trade union industrial logic” for the creation of “a single public service union” with the merger of PCS and Unison (never mind Unite & the GMB, but did they forget the teachers? – Ed). Others argue that Unison has brought it upon itself. Jon Rogers, left member of Unison’s executive, argues that “friends in UNISON need to reflect upon why no other union … ever wants to consider merging with us“.

Read the rest of this entry »

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UNISON’s National Women’s Conference: the “Rape Denial” debate and the SWP

February 23, 2013 at 12:38 am (Feminism, Galloway, Human rights, misogyny, reblogged, sexism, SWP, unions, UNISON, women)

By Cath Elliott (reblogged from Too Much To Say For Myself):

There’s been some discussion online about last Saturday’s debate at UNISON’s National Women’s Conference on Motion 30: Support Rape Victims not Rape Deniers, so as the original mover of the motion at #unwc13 I thought perhaps it might be time for me to give my take on it all.

* * *

Personal Background

First though, some personal background.

The Socialist Workers Party was the first political party I ever got involved with.

It was back in the early 80′s when I was 13/14 years old and just starting to get interested in politics. I’d written off to the Anti-Nazi League, whose address I’d found printed on the inside sleeve of the latest Tom Robinson Band album, and someone from the ANL who lived locally had contacted me and invited me to meet up with him. And so I had, not knowing at the time (and not realising until many years later in fact) that the ANL and the SWP were inextricably linked.

I was 14, he was 24, but before too long we were ‘an item’; although to give A his due he behaved impeccably, and in light of some of the stuff that’s now coming out about the SWP and its history with young women it seems I was one of the lucky ones.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I have many fond memories of Saturday mornings spent selling the paper, of the hours spent in A’s kitchen churning out indecipherable leaflets on the old hand-cranked printer, and of being in awe of, and desperate to learn from, this small group of adult men who called each other comrade and talked openly of a need for revolution.

I’m not sure how long it all lasted, but eventually I moved on and got involved with the Young Socialists instead, and while there have been a couple of occasions over the years where I’ve come close to rejoining the party, most recently at the start of the Iraq war, to be frank I’m just not a party animal: I can’t and I won’t do unswerving or unquestioning loyalty to any so-called ‘leadership’, and sadly that’s what the SWP has always demanded.

I have though supported plenty of SWP events over the years and, as the old cliché goes, some of my best friends are Swappies….

* * *

Background to the Motion

In September last year the NUS passed a motion condemning George Galloway for his comments on rape and denying him a platform at future NUS events. Rather than retract his remarks, Galloway’s response to this was to threaten to sue them.

The deadline for submission of motions to this year’s UNISON’s Women’s Conference was 18th October. At this point Galloway was still making threats, so in solidarity with the NUS position my Regional Women’s Committee submitted a similar but slightly toned down version of their motion.

Our motion was accepted onto the conference agenda, and as chair of the committee and as the Eastern Region Delegate it then became my job to move it.

* * *

Other Background

In January this year it was revealed that the SWP had held an internal Disputes Committee hearing into rape allegations against a senior SWP activist and long-standing member of its Central Committee.  The case against Comrade Delta – who it now turns out was in his late forties when the alleged rape took place while the young woman concerned was still a teenager – was found not proven.

Furthermore, as the published transcript of the Disputes Committee Report to SWP Conference makes clear, the young woman concerned, Comrade W, who made the allegations against Comrade Delta, was asked entirely inappropriate and victim blaming questions during the Disputes Committee hearing – questions about previous sexual history and so on – while the Disputes Committee itself was comprised in large part of Comrade Delta’s friends and allies.

All in all a pretty shameful state of affairs then, and one that’s been written about extensively in  the weeks since it all came out.

* * *

At Conference

I was made aware during conference that some SWP activists were planning to speak against the Galloway motion.

Word had somehow got out to them that there was a risk the party would be getting a dishonourable mention in my moving speech. I am after all one of the union activists who recently signed the open letter to the SWP Central Committee asking them to reconsider their stance, so the SWP had held a meeting and, egged on from the back of the conference hall by a full-time SWP employee, were preparing to justify the Kangaroo Court tactics Comrade W had been subjected to, and to defend the indefensible.

I was baffled by this decision, especially given the party’s now much publicised record on handling rape and sexual violence within its own ranks. But on the Saturday morning the motion was due to be heard, after I’d seen that at least one of the SWP women involved had signed the now notorious 500 signature shit list, and after this leaflet had been handed to me on my way into the conference venue, I was also bloody angry.

SWP Handout UNISON Women's Conference 2013

So in anticipation of the things I suspected they’d be saying in their opposition speeches, I sat down and wrote my right of reply.

* * *

The Debate

The first half of my opening speech was pretty much a rip-off of a piece I’ve published on this blog already – Assange, and feminism’s so-called male allies. That’s one of the joys of being a writer, you can plagiarise yourself to your heart’s content.

So I talked about Assange and Galloway and Pilger, and about my disappointment with those leftie men who are prepared to sell women out for the sake of other leftie men.

And then I talked about the recent goings on in the SWP:

“Our comrades in the Socialist Workers’ Party haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory recently either over the issue of rape and sexual assault.

For those of you who haven’t heard, the SWP held an internal hearing into rape allegations against a senior member of its Central Committee, the membership of which was made up from all accounts of a majority of the alleged perpetrators close friends and allies. The alleged victim was then asked exactly the kinds of questions we would condemn if they were asked in any so-called bourgeois court of law.

Questions about the victim’s previous sexual history, victim blaming questions to try and show that if the alleged incident did take place the victim herself must have borne some responsibility for whatever went on.

Quite rightly the SWP have been roundly denounced for its Kangaroo Court tactics, and sadly but inevitably some of our own colleagues, comrades we would ordinarily be proud to stand alongside, have found themselves and their allegiances come under scrutiny.

Conference, declaring a man to be innocent of rape and other crimes of sexual violence, purely on the grounds that he’s been engaged in important work that many of us would like to see continued, while discounting women’s testimonies and women’s concerns in the process, is just the same old same old, men protecting men protecting men, and selling women out in the process.

Well we’re calling on UNISON to take a stand. We’re calling on UNISON to refuse to grant a platform to anyone who blames women for the crimes of sexual violence committed against them, and who perpetrates rape culture through the victim blaming attitudes they espouse.

Conference we know that no platforming is a controversial measure, and it’s not something we propose lightly. But at the same time we also know that every time a rape denier spouts their victim blaming poison another woman is silenced, and we refuse to play any part in that.

Conference please support the motion.”

And then the SWP got their chance to speak.

And they blew it.

I was apparently being “nasty” and making “serious allegations” against their party. I’d been reading too much of the right-wing press and I didn’t know what I was talking about. There had been five women at the Disputes Committee hearing, and it had all been conducted impeccably and the party was beyond reproach. The ‘process’ the SWP had used to determine the guilt or innocence of Comrade Delta had been fair. And so on and so forth…

We had a queue of women lined up to speak in support, but in the end the debate was closed down after conference had heard two more speakers for and two speakers against the motion.

Right up until the point when the SWP decided to make it personal I’d been looking at my hastily scribbled Right of Reply speech and wondering whether I should tone it down a bit. But after listening to the disgraceful attempts to justify the SWP’s recent behaviour, and after hearing myself practically being accused of being some kind of right wing stooge, I decided to go for it:

“Conference, as I said in my opening speech we do recognise that no platforming is a controversial measure.

However, to have the SWP come up here and pretend that their concerns are centred on some idea that we want to no platform anyone whose views differ from ours quite frankly takes the biscuit.

No, the SWP doesn’t care about sexism or about rape victims. The SWP’s only concerns are about the implications of this motion being passed for the 500 of its members, many of them UNISON activists, who yesterday signed a statement supporting the actions of its Central Committee. Their concerns are solely about what will happen now that 500 of them have outed themselves as misogynists and rape deniers.

In the leaflet that many of you would have been handed this morning outside the conference centre the SWP say: “We believe that the allegations made by the women in the Assange case should be taken seriously and investigated.” My question for the SWP would be – why then don’t you believe that allegations made by your own women members against your own activists should be taken equally seriously and investigated?

I know this is controversial conference, but please support the motion.”

The motion was passed overwhelmingly by UNISON Women’s Conference, with only five women voting against it and several hundred grassroots trade union women voting for it.

* * *

Summary

There are legitimate arguments to be had about no-platforming people, and I wish we could have heard those arguments at women’s conference. Unfortunately though the SWP picked the wrong fight on the conference floor, choosing instead to try and defend and justify the party’s recent despicable behaviour.

And now things have got even worse for them, with the party expelling activists for the simple crime of talking to each other on Facebook without the Central Committee’s permission or something. Meanwhile those swappies who have openly discussed the details of the case face no sanction whatsoever.

I’d be interested to hear whether those who got up and opposed UNISON’s right not to give Galloway a platform will feel a similar urge to get up and defend their own (now expelled) comrades’ rights to speak at the SWP’s hastily called Special Conference on March 10th. I won’t be holding my breath though….

Oh, and as for Galloway, he apparently has no problem with no-platforming anyone …

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