Saturday 29 December 2007

UNITE (Amicus section) executive nominations deadline

Don't forget that completed nomination forms for the 40 "Amicus seats" on UNITE's first Executive Council have to be received by 11th January 2008, so if you haven't posted yours off yet, please do. I suggest taking a photocopy before you post it and noting when you posted it, in case of dispute.

For more details, see the full timetable or the official pamplet with all the details in.

Indesit follows Electrolux to Poland

Indesit have closed their cooker factory near Stoke, moving production to Poland, getting their closure in before Electrolux and with far less visibility.

The UNITE/Amicus press release is full of the despair that many manufacturing workers and trade unionists feel. Stoke has been hit very hard by the decline of manufacturing. The company I work for, now Fujitsu, used to (when it was ICL) employ several thousand people manufacturing printed circuit boards in the area. The plants were outsourced, downsized and finally closed.

I do think the press release goes too far, however, talking about there being "no manufacturing" left. I hear the same from many trade unionists in Manchester, where I live, but the reality is a bit more complicated. Nearly all the big old manufacturing plants in Manchester are long gone - these are the plants that were the bedrock of the trade union movement in the city for decades until the 1980s. So union activists see none of the old names left and conclude there's no manufacturing left.

What's actually happened is a combination of:

  1. The proportion of manufactured goods produced here has dropped (Electrolux and Indesit being just two of the latest examples)
  2. Productivity in manufacturing has risen rapidly, so UK manufacturing employment has plummeted while many parts of UK manufacturing output has not declined. For example, jobs in car manufacturing have been devastated, but the remaining plants produce more cars than decades ago. These aren't always the plants people think of, many of which have gone, but there are big Honda, Nissan and Toyota plants in the UK.
  3. The factories that remain are generally newer and/or smaller. As union recognition is generally established during periods of high industrial action, a high proportion of workplaces which have been set up since the 1970s are not effectively unionised. Smaller workplaces are also less likely to be unionised than large ones. The effect is that trade unionists are less aware of the factories that are currently operating than of the ones that we've lost.

I think "traditional" manufacturing in Stoke lasted a little longer than in Manchester. You can see from the 2001 census for the Stoke council area, over a quarter of workers were employed in manufacturing at that time, higher than the West Midlands as a whole, and far higher than England. The equivalent table for Manchester (the council area, not Greater Manchester) shows just over 10% employed in manufacturing. That's still a lot more than most union activists would guess though...

This might seem a bit obscure, but I think it's important to know what the problem is if you want to tackle it.

I'm not suggesting there are easy answers, but here are few thoughts:
  • A shift in government policy to see manufacturing industry as an essential component of a viable economy.
  • Better employment rights to make it harder for employers to up-sticks and leave.
  • Better unionisation in manufacturing. Despite the stereotype, most manufacturing workers are not currently unionised (actually, the latest stats say only around 23% are in a union - below the average for the whole UK workforce)
  • Stronger unions would open up more possibilities to fight job cuts, rather than just fighting for better redundancy money.
  • Stopping the thin end of the wedge. Most companies cutting jobs to exploit low-paid workers offshore still require production, marketing, sales, distribution etc in the UK. Uniting those immediately affected with the rest must offer the best chance of success.
  • Campaigning for more local production, linking with the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.

What do you think?

Friday 21 December 2007

The right to strike under threat

The coverage of the recent European Court of Justice rulings on the right to strike is, to say the least, confusing. Presumably the consequences, which I am sure will be far reaching, will become clearer.

To get a flavour, here are reports from the Financial Times, Socialist Worker and the International Transport Workers' Federation.

The case related to an attempt to re-flag a ship to another country and employ a new crew on lower wages.

My initial reading of this is that the ECJ recognised both the "fundamental right" to strike and companies "freedom of establishment" to set up and operate wherever they wanted.

Predictably, the UK government took the side of the employer, alongside some of the governments of low-wage countries, while most other EU countries took the side of the union.

Some commentators are calling this a "balanced" decision, others a fudge. Whatever you call it, the ruling says that union action to defend jobs and conditions by opposing the reflagging is an infringement of the employer's rights, but that this might be justified in some circumstances.

What I think this means is that the fundamental human right of all working people (who aren't slaves) - to refuse to work - is being "balanced" against the free market principles of the EU. Let this be a warning to all trade unionists who think "free trade" treaties that have legal weight are something we can welcome or ignore.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Capgemini strike ballot over redundancies

IT workers in the PCS union in Capgemini have voted overwhelmingly for a ballot for strike action against massive job cuts on the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) contract.

It may seem strange that PCS, primarily a civil service union, has members in the IT industry, but this is one of the consequences of privatisation and outsourcing in recent years.

UNITE members in Fujitsu, where I work, will be watching developments closely - many of us work on the HMRC contract, where Fujitsu is effectively a subcontractor to Capgemini.

If the government had an ounce of sense, there would not be cuts in IT provision to HMRC just when the department is reeling from the "lost disks" fiasco.

Construction rally - for direct labour and negotiated agreements

I posted earlier about the abuse of agency labour - if you can get to Manchester on Wednesday 2nd January, please join the rally by Amicus construction workers which is partly on this subject.

More details of the rally are available on the union web site.

Electrolux - the official line

The official UNITE-Amicus press release about the closure of the Electrolux Spennymoor plant makes truly depressing reading.

Is negotiating better redundancy terms while our manufacturing industry is decimated really the best the trade union movement can do?

This plant is in Blair's old constituency. It's current losses are less than other plants in other countries - is this plant being shut because it's cheap, easy and quick to fire UK workers?

The government has no meaningful strategy to protect and develop industry and jobs because it is tied to "neo-liberal" free-market dogma which means the strategy is to have no strategy. Billions of our money are being thrown at Northern Rock - not to protect jobs and housing of working people, but to prop up shaky financial markets which gambled and lost. Even the word "nationalisation" is back in the news - but to prop up profit, not to put people before profit.

Highs & Lows - Pensions & Agency Working

It's fantastic news that the government has finally agreed to compensate the 120,000+ workers who lost out in their pensions when their firms went bust. There is absolutely no doubt that this wouldn't have happened without persistent campaigning.

It's always infuriating to hear people say "there's no point of being in a union". I've lost count of the number of individual cases I've dealt with where members have gained more from their membership over one issue than a lifetime of subs. It's always good to be able to point to collective issues in the workplace where the union delivers gains on a similar scale. This is such a big union win that it even made the national headlines. We can never be good enough at trumpeting our successes.

Meanwhile, when it comes to agency and temporary workers, the UK government is still putting its commitment to free market dogma and sucking up to big business ahead of justice and the needs of working people. The UK government continues to block the proposed EU Agency Workers Directive which would give agency workers rights as employees. I find it particularly sick that agency workers are left open to exploitation with fewer legal rights and often lower pay, while the government still refuses to repeal the Tory anti-union laws that outlaw solidarity action between direct employees and their agency colleagues.

Andrew Miller MP has put forward a private member's bill on the subject, which should at least make sure it gets debated in parliament.

We must keep the pressure up!

Friday 14 December 2007

Electrolux - another blow to manufacturing

As feared, this morning Electrolux issued a press release announcing the closure of its Spennymoor plant, which currently has about 500 staff.

It's telling that Electrolux put this UK plant under review, but didn't do the same to plants which were suffering greater losses in northern Europe. Could this be because of it's so much cheaper and easier and sack people here?

What an indictment for the neoliberal free-market madness pursued by Blair & Brown. The Spennymoor plant is in Blair's old constituency.

Sunday 2 December 2007

Remploy shame

Anyone who has been to a union conference this year will probably have heard trade unionists employed by Remploy speaking out against the threat to close many of their plants.

Ministers made a lot of encouraging noises, but it's now clear that these were no more than attempts to kick the issue into touch until after the conference season.

28 factories are now to close and thousands of jobs for people with disabilities will go with them.

Work & Pensions Secretary Peter Hain is still trying to dress this up as good news:

The proposals will man many more disabled people supported in mainstream employment, fewer factory closures than previously planned and steady improvements in value for money.
All the unions representing members in Remploy continue to oppose the closures. The unions believe that if the current senior (mis-)management of Remploy got the boot, the business could be expanded rather than shrinking.

Strikers get better off

Yesterday's Morning Star included a short report headed "UNISON wins High Court test case". The case (Cooper v Isle of Wight College) related to how much pay an employer can dock for strike action.

According the report, the ruling means employers will have to exclude annual leave and bank holidays when calculating how much pay to deduct for strike action. I've had a quick dig around on the web and can't find any mention of this on the UNISON web site, or anywhere else. Anyone got any more detail?

Tuesday 27 November 2007

UNITE Executive Council elections - the TGWU timetable

The TGWU web site gives details of the timetable for the election of the 40 members of the UNITE Executive Council who will be elected from the TGWU section of UNITE.

In summary, nominations (via branches) will take place from 3rd December 2007 to 11th January 2008. Voting will take place 3rd-28th March 2008.

Though the nomination process and timetable is different from the Amicus section, the actual voting is at the same time. This will make campaigning a lot easier in those workplaces where there are members in both sections of UNITE.

Monday 26 November 2007

Telent pensions - who do you believe?

The saga of the Pensions Corporation's efforts to raid the pensions of GEC, Marconi and Telent employees continues.

Despite pressure from UNITE and a helpful ruling from the Pensions Regulator, the takeover of Telent by the Pensions Corporation did go ahead.

The new owners want to present the picture as all roses, as this BBC report reflects. You don't have to look far to find out that not everyone's minds are at rest yet. The very same day UNITE issued this press release, and the web site Global Pensions still reports difficulties.

Of course the other major worry with this takeover is for jobs. The name of the company "Pensions Corporation" gives you a clue that their business interests might not be quite the same as what Telent's were.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Climate Change, Unions & Jobs

On Thursday evening I attended a very thought-provoking rally about Climate Change.

Too often, when trade unionists think about this issue, thinking is clouded by fears for jobs - whether in the motor industry, aviation or other sectors.

Similarly, one of the fears held by the public generally (and exploited by politicians who want to hide behind the public) is that tackling climate change will necessarily mean "sacrifices" for ordinary people, rather than just big "changes" (positive too).

One of the ideas that came out of the meeting was why can't trade unionists start a positive campaign for the things we want and need to tackle climate change. Here are few initial thoughts:

  1. A massive programme of insulating homes
  2. Encouraging councils to build homes again, to the highest environmental standards
  3. Planned and urgent development of the industries necessary for a low-carbon economy, such as renewable power generation and distribution
  4. A massive increase in public transport
  5. Massive investment in alternatives to cement in construction (the cement industry is one of the biggest producers of CO2)
  6. A big push for localised production, rather than the drive to move work offshore and unnecessarily transport goods half way round the world. Not only could this help reduce our carbon footprint, but help reverse the decline of manufacturing jobs
A big theme of the meeting was that when governments really want to act, amazing things are possible. Speaker Jonathan Neale grew up in the USA, and he described the redirection of industry when WWII broke out. Full employment and other measures meant that the US spent as much on armaments in the first year of the war as the size of the whole economy the previous year. Another speaker talked about the (free to the public) conversion of coal fires to smokeless fuel in the UK when the Clean Air Act came in. Can we mobilise the same determination to tackle climate change, or will we allow the "neo-liberal" free-market dogma to continue wrecking our world?

I've previously posted about the trade union conference on Climate Change, which the national sector committee for the Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT sector of UNITE is sending a delegation to. I really hope that conference comes up with a campaigning agenda that we can all work to get our unions behind.

And for those few who still doubt that Climate Change is a real issue - think about this. Depending who you listen to, global oil production either has peaked, is peaking, or is about to peak in the next few decades. Even if Climate Change proved not to be an issue (highly unlikely), many of the measures would still be needed to adapt to a world with less oil supply. Wouldn't it be wise to start making those changes now?

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Pay revolt

The pay issue just won't go away, with RPI inflation figures revised upwards to 4.2%. The government's attempts to baffle us all with talk of CPI inflation at 2.1% (fine as long as you don't need housing or fuel!) won't wash as most working people are experiencing falling real wages for the first time in 30 years.

Locally in Manchester, UNITE members at Stagecoach have voted (by 94%!) to strike for better pay, and strike dates have now been announced. Let's hope they can make a breakthrough.

It's been a great disappointment that the unions in the UK have allowed the opportunity of a breakthrough on public sector pay to slip through our fingers. At the moment, it is the government that is leading the way on pay "restraint", not by restraining their own salaries, but by restraining those of public sector employees. Not surprisingly, private sector employers are only too happy to follow this lead.

With the UK public sector having a far higher union density than the private sector, there was a real opportunity for united action (building on fights by posties, civil servants and even prison officers) defeating the pay cap and getting much-needed headlines about unions WINNING, which would help us build the union everywhere. Sadly, most of the union leaders seemed more interested in saving Gordon Brown embarassment than in standing up effectively for members, so the opportunity has receded - at least for now.

What a contrast to the headlines coming from France!

But with Brown saying he wants to restrict public sector pay rises to 2% for three years, the chances of the lid staying on seem slim to me.

Health boss - ambushed

Along with many other supporters, I joined what the Manchester Evening News describes as the "ambush" of health boss Sheila Foley this morning, as she came back from her holiday in Dubai.

UNISON are pleased that following the protest she did agree to talks, and the union has offered to suspend the strike if Karen Reissmann is reinstated pending appeal.

Hope to see you on the demonstration on Saturday!

For more information, see

Monday 19 November 2007

Victimisation - can be beaten

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've been heavily involved in the campaign to reinstate Karen Reissmann, a local nurse and UNISON activist who has been sacked for speaking out in defence of the NHS. Tomorrow morning I'll be joining their striking members who are protesting at the trust HQ as their boss, Sheila Foley, returns from yet another holiday in Dubai.

Foley has had a nice break while her staff are on strike and the service she is supposed to be responsible for lies in tatters. She is looking increasingly isolated now. Manchester city council has an important role in the dispute, as it funds the trust and has two councillors on the trust board. Liberal and Green councillors have already spoken out against Karen's sacking and there are increasing rumbles from within the Labour Party at the relative silence from Labour benches. Saturday's demonstration will be vital to step up the pressure another notch.

Sadly Karen is far from the only activist facing victimisation. Today's @ctivist newsletter reports a 95% indicative vote to strike by UNITE members at CB&I’s Isle of Grain gas storage site in North Kent, in response to the dismissal of steel worker John McEwan a few days after he was elected as a shop steward.

It seems to me that as working people slowly regain confidence to resist the attacks we face, employers are seeing picking off key activists as an attractive option.

It is very encouraging that union members in both these cases understand that if they let an employer pick off the steward, nobody will be safe. Disgracefully, UK employment law provides no way to get your job back if you are unfairly sacked, only to get compensation. Even if the money fairly compensated the victimised individual (and it rarely does), every other employee still loses out when union organisation is weakened. Only campaigning (including industrial action) has a realistic chance of winning reinstatement.

When, as in both these cases, union members have the courage to defend their stewards, they deserve the full support of the trade union movement.

Thursday 15 November 2007

Support from London

Pete Gillard, secretary of the London Computer Staffs branch, kindly provided this endorsement for the Executive elections:

Ian has demonstrated his abilities in leading the industrial fight which resulted in Unite not only protecting its recognition agreement in Fujitsu Manchester but extending it and opening the door to recognition at other previously unrecognised sites. This was probably the most important victory in the IT industry in recent years. On the NEC, Ian has been resolute in defending members’ rights and fighting to ensure that our industrial aims are never subordinated the needs of the Government.

Pete Gillard, Secretary, London Computer Staffs Branch

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Reinstate Karen Reissmann

I've just got home from an amazing solidarity rally which packed the main hall in Manchester's Mechanics' Institute.

People from UNISON, UNITE, NUJ, CWU, FBU, NUT, Military Families Against the War, Stop the War Coalition and even the Liberal Democrats spoke out demanding the reinstatement of Karen Reissmann, the UNISON branch chair and local nurse who has been sacked for speaking out in defence of the NHS. Some of the most powerful speeches, however, came from users of the mental health services themselves.

If you want to grasp the full absurdity of the sacking, you can do no better than to read Mark Steel's column in today's Independent "You can't go round telling people you've been sacked".

While her staff are on strike and the trust is in crisis, its Chief Executive, Sheila Foley, has nipped off to her holiday home in Dubai. Let's just say the PR team she has just hired have a tough job on their hands. It speaks volumes that while Karen and her branch have had to fight off penny-pinching cuts (people were even on waiting lists to be sectioned due to lack of beds), the trust is prepared to pay for PR and hire 20 private beds for the duration of the dispute.

1pm, Saturday 24th November
Peace Gardens, St Peters' Square, Manchester (by the town hall)
Bring banners & friends

Other Ways To Help
a) Send an email protesting to Sheila Foley, Chief executive of Karen’s trust on and copy to her union branch
b) Write to Alan Johnson, secretary of state for health on
c) Send a donation to strike hardship fund (cheques payable to "Manchester Community and Mental Health UNISON") to UNISON Manchester Community and Mental Health Branch, c/o union office , Chorlton House, 70 Manchester Rd, Manchester M21 9UN
d) Bother your councillors. Did you know that the trust is partly funded by Manchester City Council, and that two councillors (Martin Pagel and Anthony Burns) sit on the trust's board?

More Information
See or
There are now even campaign groups on Facebook and MySpace.

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Climate Change - a trade union issue

Climate Change is one of the biggest issues facing humanity, but as it's an issue unions are only just beginning to grapple with, it's understandable that some members question why it's a trade union issue.

Unions have always been at the forefront of campaigning for social justice, and environmental issues deserve their place on our campaigning agenda on their own merits. I don't believe we can successfully tackle this issue by individual action alone.

Even if you want to take a more parochial view of trade unionism, Climate Change will result in employers making changes, so surely unions should ensure that the voice of the members is heard when decisions on those changes are being made. Our voices will only be heard if they are well informed and backed up with effective campaigning.

I was therefore very pleased that the recent meeting of our union's National Sector Committee for Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT decided to send a delegation to the trade union conference on climate change being organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change for 9th February 2008. I hope many other bodies of the union will do the same, so that the conference can really get to grips with the issues and their impact on members.

In the meantime, Saturday 8th December is a national day of action on climate change. Please do whatever you can - if you're in London there is a demonstration.

Electrolux - not Polished off yet

The Electrolux cooker-factory in Spennymoor (in the north-east) is currently "under review", with the results expected in mid-December. [For media coverage, click here]

Workers believe the plant can make a profit. This in the context where a lot of work has already been moved offshore to Poland. The statement from the company talks about the need to return it to acceptable levels of profitability. Other plants have profit issues at least as bad, but are in countries where labour laws are stronger, or government takes more of an interest in protecting manufacturing. Only Spennymoor is "under review".

It's bad enough if your job is under threat because the company you work for goes bust. Far worse if your employer considers throwing you on the scrap heap simply because you're the easiest to chop to make more money elsewhere.

As usual, there are many angles to the situation. Electrolux were happy to accept public money - is it right they can now consider upping sticks without paying it back? When the government and companies are all supposed to be reducing carbon emissions, how can it make sense to close a plant in England, transfer manufacturing hundreds of miles away and ship the products over here? And what an indictment of Tony Blair's beloved free-market that yet another manufacturing plant in his old constituency is under threat. If it's right for the government to bail out the financial markets with billions of pounds, how can it be wrong to intervene to ensure we have a sound and sustainable industrial base?

If, as people fear, Electrolux decide to try to cut jobs, members in Spennymoor will need all our support.

Support from CSC

Colin Walker, chair of the UNITE reps in CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation), kindly sent me this endorsement for the Executive elections :

I have worked with Ian Allinson for 4 years on the Amicus National Executive, and on the IT National Advisory Committee for 6 years. I have always found him to be a principled, dedicated, energetic and talented trade unionist, and I have no hesitation in recommending a vote for him. He is a strategic thinker, who always looks at the big picture, but likewise is someone who has a strong attention to detail - just the qualities needed for the executive council.

His work nationally for the members in the EEEIT Sector is well known and respected amongst reps and members in CSC and across the IT industry. His role in leading a long and difficult dispute with his employer to a highly successful conclusion stands as testament to his leadership, tenacity, pragmatism, and dedication on behalf of those he represents.

I have no hesitation in recommending support for Ian's candidacy for the Unite Executive Council. I know he will do an excellent job of pushing forward progressive policies that will benefit the whole membership, and representing the members in the EEEIT sector, as his track record speaks for itself.

Colin Walker
Unite Amicus Section NEC member and Unite Chair of Reps, CSC

Sunday 11 November 2007

Queries on UNITE/Amicus Executive elections

Quite a few workplace reps and stewards have been asking about the process for nominations to the Amicus seats on the UNITE Executive Council.

My previous posts on the subject explain a lot of it, but I've heard responses to two specific questions that I thought might be of general interest:

  • Nominations from workplaces (as opposed to branches) must come from workplace representatives (which includes shop stewards), not Health & Safety Reps or Union Learning Reps.
  • The nomination forms include space for lots of details, including home address, but your nomination will be valid as long as the person you are nominating is clearly identified. If you have a name, branch and membership number that should be fine.

EEE&IT National Sector Committee

A very interesting meeting this week, straight after a useful sector workshop on pensions. Over the next few weeks I'll be blogging about some of the news and ideas I picked up - watch this space.

Privatisation - can be beaten

It's very encouraging to see that the Jersey parliament has postponed its vote on the privatisation of Jersey Telecom, under pressure from the UNITE campaign. Let's keep it up and keep this service in the public sector.

Reinstate Karen Reissmann

Over 100 UNISON members in the NHS in Manchester have been on all out strike since Thursday, demanding the reinstatement of their branch chair, Karen Reissmann, who has been sacked for speaking out against cuts and privatisation in the NHS.

The campaign has its own web site, but unfortunately it doesn't always include all the latest information.

The campaign has been getting a lot of sympathetic coverage, partly because journalists know that if NHS staff get sacked for speaking to them, their sources will dry up. When the Manchester Evening News, Socialist Worker and the Daily Mail are all on the same side, you know you're involved in a campaign that can win.

The next couple of big events in the campaign are:

  • Solidarity Meeting, 7pm, Wednesday 14th November, Mechanics Institute, Princess St [entrance Major St], Manchester city centre.
  • Demonstartion, 1pm, Saturday 24 November, Peace Gardens, off St Peters Square, behind town hall, Manchester
What else can you do:
a) send an email protesting to Sheila Foley, Chief executive of Karen’s trust on and copy to her union branch
b) Write to Alan Johnson, secretary of state for health on
c) Send a donation to strike hardship fund (cheques payable to "Manchester Community and Mental Health UNISON" can be sent to Manchester Community and Mental Health Branch.
c/o union office , Chorlton House, 70 Manchester Rd, Manchester M21 9UN)

Saturday 10 November 2007

Telent pensions ruling goes our way

See the UNITE press release here.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Telent jobs and pensions hang in the balance

The threat that Telent (one of the surviving bits of the old Marconi) might be bought by the Pensions Corporation is a threat to the security of the pensions of many current Telent, Marconi and GEC staff. It's also a threat to the job-security of current Telent staff - does anyone seriously think that a company called the "Pensions Corporation" is interested in running the business, rather than raiding their pensions?

The intervention of the pensions regulator to appoint independent trustees was helpful, and might even be enough to scupper the takeover. However, Telent have appealed against the ruling, as this media report hints.

Let's hope the appeal fails!

Monday 5 November 2007

Corporate Responsibility - My Arse!

Many environmentalists have labelled the efforts of big corporations to protect their brand image by appearing responsible as "green-wash". I don't know what the right word is for the same hypocrisy when applied to labour standards.

Our sector newsletter reports that while Philips' "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR) guidelines include the principle that overtime is voluntary. Presumably this was aimed to counter the image of sweat-shops in developing countries, where compulsory overtime has been a major issue. Sadly Philips don't seem to think the same protection should apply in the UK, where Philips Medical Systems is trying to force employees to sign new contracts including compulsory weekend working.

The topic of "flexible working" (flexible for who - you or your employer?) is a hot topic at Fujitsu at the moment, where the company is trying to harmonise "out of hours" working arrangements.

Stop the BNP conference

Those of us in the north-west again have to endure the prospect of the BNP trying to organise a conference in our region.

Unite Against Fascism's web site gives details of the protests against it.

Karen Reissmann - sacked

Manchester nurse and UNISON activist Karen Reissmann was sacked today - for speaking out against cuts and "reforms" (i.e. making things worse) in the NHS.

There has already been a magnificent campaign for her reinstatement during her suspension, including strike action.

The fact that Karen was victimised for speaking out should send a shiver down the spine of every trade unionist, every journalist, and everyone who cares about our NHS. Once the shiver has passed, we should all get stuck in to supporting the campaign for her reinstatement.

150 members in her health trust will be on indefinite strike from Thursday, demanding her reinstatement. They will need massive moral, practical and financial support. You can download a leaflet and collection sheet - please use them.

What does it say when a trust behaves so badly that nurses are prepared to go on strike? What does it say when the NHS (under a "Labour" government) sacks a trade unionist for doing her job?

I have a particular interest in this campaign, having known Karen as a local activist for many years, and having held joint rallies and activities when we were on strike at the same time earlier in the year.

If you're in Manchester and want to show your support, I expect picket lines will be from around 8am each day at:

  • North Manchester General Hospital, Delaunay's Road, Crumpsall, Manchester
  • Manchester Royal Infirmary
  • Chorlton House, 70 Manchester Road, Chorlton Cum Hardy, Manchester, M21 9UN

Sunday 4 November 2007

Unity, Coordination and Networks

In recent times the desire among working people for unity has been very noticeable.

Maybe this comes from the feeling that we need all the strength we can muster, after the terrible defeats of the 1980s.

Maybe it is due to the fact that any workplace struggle taking place now happens against the backdrop of a general radicalisation - a "common sense" feeling against fat cats bosses, unbridled corporate power and profits being put before people. It's as if the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements have left an imprint on the thinking of us all.

Maybe the way the same gung-ho management styles are being used to make us work longer and harder for less, whether we're in the public or private sector, manufacturing or services - has led to the realisation that we're all facing very similar problems.

Whatever the cause, the effect is marked. During our own dispute at Fujitsu this year, some of our strike days coincided with strikes by PCS civil servants (nationally) and UNISON health workers (locally in Manchester). When we held joint rallies and other activities, everyone felt stronger.

I think it's this desire for unity and coordination that has led to a number of initiatives to bring together union activists on a wide scale, such as "Public Service not Private Profit" (PSnPP), Organising For Fighting Unions (OFFU) and the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN). They each have their differences, but I think they're all worth supporting. The more trade unionists who do this, the greater the chance of them complementing each other to strengthen our movement.

In Manchester we had a PSnPP rally in January, and there have been several OFFU events. These, along with the trades councils and solidarity work around various disputes have helped strengthen the networks of trade unionists locally - to everyone's benefit.

I attended a local OFFU meeting this week, discussing various disputes and campaigns and making plans for future events - the Manchester group is meeting again on the 13th. The NSSN is starting to plan a North-West regional conference
- the planning meeting is:
11am-3pm, Saturday 17th November, The Casa, 29 Hope Street, Liverpool, L1 9BQ

It's unfortunate to say the least (and a sign of how much is going on these days) that this clashes with the Amicus Unity Gazette national supporters meeting, the Labour Representation Committee conference and the Respect conference to name just a few!

Friday 2 November 2007

UNITE NEC nominations

Last night my branch decided who to nominate for the UNITE NEC elections. We are nominating:

North-West Regional Seat:

  • Pat Coyne, Bamber Bridge 0056 branch, membership number 31216380

Women's Seats:
  • Jane Stewart, Levers 9704 branch, membership number 30269599
  • Louise Cousins, Leeds 0517 branch, membership number 32987372
  • Terri Miller, Delarue branch, membership number 32680603
  • Dawn McAllister, South Lanarkshire branch, membership number 32938535

Talking to workplace reps and shop stewards, there still seems to be massive confusion about how nominations work:
  1. Contact your Regional Office and request forms to nominate for your industrial sector and for the four women's seats
  2. Decide who you want to nominate and make sure you have their details
  3. Hold a meeting of the members you represent during November or December, which much endorse your nomination
  4. Fill in the nomination form and send it off
The process is summarised on the letter I've been sending to activists in the Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT (EEE&IT) sector asking for support.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Job losses at Seagate

The Derry Journal carries an interesting story about job losses at Seagate.

Sadly, what's unusual about the report isn't the redundancies in our sector, the offshoring, the anti-union employer - or the lack of union recognition. It's an unusual approach to offer support to non-members in a redundancy situation - presumably this is part of a drive to organise the plants.

The Belfast Telegraph report gives a lot more of the background - 900 jobs to go as a company relocates production of hard-drive components to a "lower cost" plant in Malaysia.

Seagate have had over £12m in grants since 2001. Will they pay it back? This is an issue raised by many in our sector, as high-tech companies were encouraged to invest in the UK as more traditional manufacturing declined, only to up-sticks as grants dried up or cheaper opportunities became available overseas.

The Amicus 2005 conference endorsed an NEC statement (number 2) on Manufacturing, which said:

"local councils and grant awarding bodies should be directed to impose binding conditions when they offer assistance to businesses with corporate social responsibility clauses including financial penalties when jobs are exported and Amicus should support pension fund trustees in incorporating in to their corporate governance bodies suitable provision to support corporate social responsibility."

A similar point was in Composite Motion 1 on manufacturing:
"Campaign for Government powers to stop companies coming into the UK, obtaining national and local grants and then closing the company down when these are exhausted. Legislation is required to force companies to stay in a region for up to ten years to allow for community stability and security."

From memory, I think this part of the Composite came from a motion from the EEE&IT sector, which has suffered terribly from this problem.

The willingness of companies to milk grants and then move on suggests a more realistic view about offshoring. These companies are not investing in today's cheap-labour economies for the long-term or because of some commitment to international development. In many cases they will milk the local economy for a time, then move on. This is already happening with call-centres in India, where wages are rising, encouraging companies to seek out yet cheaper labour markets.

Age Discrimination & Minimum Wage

It is a ridiculous and unjustifiable anomaly that we now have legislation against age discrimination, but still a minimum wage set at a lower rate for young people. If young people are doing the same work, why shouldn't they get the same pay?

The argument that it would discourage employers from taking on young people is increasingly tenuous, when a key concern of many employers is the demographic changes meaning there are fewer young people leaving education and entering the workforce, forcing them to look more seriously at employing older people or those who would previously have been excluded from the workforce.

Good to see the TGWU section of UNITE lobbying for a better minimum wage, but what a shame this protest didn't have a higher profile.

Equal Pay - No Pay Day

Tuesday was declared "No Pay Day" as the pay gap between women and men (still 17% on hourly rates or £4000 per year) equates to women working for free from 30th October each year.

It was a pure coincidence that this week at Fujitsu we've been discussing starting an Equal Pay Review. We've campaigned for this for several years, and a commitment to it was one of the positive steps in the agreements which settled our dispute earlier this year.

It's remarkably hard to find examples of employers who've carried through Equal Pay Audits to a conclusion. Of course, some may do so without fanfare. When will the government make them compulsory? Just making discrimination illegal doesn't make it go away unless we and the government actually do something.

Wednesday 31 October 2007

Support from Ericsson

Sean Leahy, UNITE rep at Ericsson, has kindly sent this endorsement for the NEC elections:

"Ian has shown great commitment and judgement in recruiting and organising successfully in his own workplace and spreading this across the other sites in which his employer operates. As an Executive member he has consistently been active throughout the union and has offered support whenever asked to other union representatives in the sector such as our own at Ericsson.

Ian Allinson is the sort of NEC member we need more of and I believe he would be the best representative our sector could have to bring progress on the Unite NEC going forwards."

Tuesday 30 October 2007

Getting our heads around the TGWU

Over the last few days I've learnt a lot about the TGWU - the other half of UNITE.

At the moment, though UNITE is one legal entity, most structures and activities still take place within the Amicus or TWGU "sections" of the union. Even the current UNITE executive elections are taking place in parallel - 40 seats for each section.

Yesterday, while visiting workplaces around Manchester, I popped in at the local StageCoach bus depot. Most of the workers (drivers etc) are in the TGWU section, while some of the workers who maintain the buses are in the Amicus section. The workforce are in the middle of a ballot for strike action over pay, which is due to close next week.

I think it's a real weakness that members of our own union can be balloting for (or even taking) strike action, and most of us don't even know about it. If we've got a union of 2 million members, when any group of them feel they have to fight, they should feel they have 2 million behind them. If our employers felt that was the case, members sometimes wouldn't need to fight either!

Today I attended an informal meeting between the Amicus North-West Regional Council and the TGWU Regional Committee. I think it's vital that activists and members from the two sections start to meet each other and exchange information, news, views and ideas.

Part of the agenda involved explaining (or trying to!) the current regional structures of each section. The new union will have different structures, but it will be easier to understand points of view if we all understand where we're coming from.

The TGWU section have about 350 branches in the north-west, for about 90,000 paying members, whereas the Amicus section has 193 branches for about 140,000 paying members. The TGWU branches seem to be of more consistent size - mostly between 50 and 1000 members, whereas Amicus ones vary from tiny ones up to several thousand members.

The TGWU structure is much more branch-centred, rather than being based on shop stewards / workplace reps. However, TGWU branches are normally workplace-based. They have their own funds (typically about 10% of subs income).

Above branch level, there are three main types of structures: Trade Groups (a bit like our sectors, but broader), geographical structures, and equality structures.

Trade Groups
Branches can send one delegate to any Regional Trade Group for which the branch has at least 50 members. They can send a second delegate provided at least one is female. Some groups can send an additional Black And Ethnic Minority delegate.

The trade groups are:

  • ACTS (Misc, white collar - Voluntary sector, Finance, Betting etc)
  • Agricultural Workers
  • Building & Construction / Building Crafts
  • Chemical, Oil and Rubber
  • Civil Air Transport
  • Docks & Waterways
  • Food, Drink & Tobacco
  • General Workers
  • Power & Engineering
  • Public Services
  • Road Transport Commercial
  • Textile
  • Vehicle Building & Automotive
  • Passenger
Regional trade groups send delegates to national committees. They can also send 1-3 delegates to the Regional Committee.

Geographical Structures
Branches can send one delegate to a District Committee, plus a second delegate as long as at least one is female.

The District Committees are the closest thing to our Area Conferences & Committees, but with some important differences. Firstly, they are branch-based, whereas the Amicus Area structures are open to branch officers AND workplace reps. Secondly, the TGWU District Committees are more part of the main union structure, whereas our Area structures are bit out on a limb.

For the North-West, the TGWU districts are the Isle of Man, Liverpool, Wirral, Cheshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Cumbria is also a district, but in the TGWU that is not in the North-West region (it is in the new UNITE regions though). This is fairly close to the Amicus Areas (Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Isle of Man).

Each TGWU District Committee can send two delegates (one male, one female) to the Regional Committee. Don't forget we've already got trade group delegates there; there is also one delegate at the Regional Committee from each of the regional Equality Committees (see below).

The TGWU Regional Committee roughly corresponds to the Amicus Regional Council. It meets quarterly. The Regional Committee elects a Finance & General Purposes Committee, which roughly corresponds to the Amicus "Regional Council Management Committee".
There was a suggestion that we could combine the TGWU's F&GP with the Amicus Management Committee to make the "F'ing Management Committee". Maybe not.

TGWU branches nominate to three equality committees, covering Women, Race and Disability. These send delegates to the Regional Committee and to National committees.

It's already clear that the UNITE structure will include a broader range of Equalities strands, as the Amicus one already does.

Monday 29 October 2007

Support from Brush and Unisys

Thanks to Paul Welsh, convenor at Brush Electrical Machines, who has contacted me to say he's supporting me in the NEC elections.

Sally Pirrie, seconded rep at UNISYS / iPSL, kindly provided this supportive quote:

Ian has been pro-active member of the union, for several years as a young member and now as a senior union representative in his company.

Out of Ian's interaction on behalf of the union, in his company, our union has benefited by his drive and ambition to give the working person a union membership that is there to protect them in their work place.

Our union needs pro-active members on the NEC and Ian is one of these people.

Please support Ian.

Pay - fat cats and the rest of us

Today's paper reports findings by Incomes Data Services (IDS) that the earnings of the chief executives of FTSE100 companies are still going up - fast.

Last financial year, the average salary was £737,000. Don't worry though, they didn't really have to scrape by on that, once you include incentive schemes and share options their average earnings rose to £3,174,000!

Meanwhile we've seen average earnings for the rest of us falling behind prices for the first time in 20 years. Sadly, Gordon Brown is leading the way on the employers' side, trying to hold public sector pay down below 2% - a significant pay cut in real terms. Naturally every other employer wants to copy this.

It reminds me of a slogan I saw years ago "To make the rich work harder, we pay them more. To make the poor work harder, we pay them less".

Productivity keeps rising, but the share of what we produce that working people get keeps shrinking.

The outcomes of disputes involving the CWU in Royal Mail, PCS in the civil service and UNISON in local government will have a big impact on whether employers in public & private sector alike continue to get away with it.

Sunday 28 October 2007

Support from Zetex

Martin Gleeson has very kindly provided this message of support for the NEC elections:

Our sector is really diverse - comprising a range of manufacturing workplaces like mine and the growing IT services industry. To make us work well as a sector and punch our weight in the super union that Unite has become, we need an Executive member who has a track record of activism throughout the union's structures and who has demonstrated good networking abilities across the various sites.

I believe Ian Allinson has the attributes everybody in the sector should be looking for. The victory which Ian masterminded with his colleagues at Fujitsu showed great tenacity against a difficult employer: exactly the spirit we need within our own organisation to make our sector and the wider union an effective campaigning force for change.

Martin Gleeson
Unite Convenor
Zetex Semiconductors

Friday 26 October 2007

Legal ruling on redundancy consultation

There's been a lot of media coverage of a court ruling on the case:

UK Coal Mining Ltd v (1) National Union of Mineworkers (2) British Association of Colliery Management - EAT 27.9.07

In the past, many employers have regarded redundancy consultation as being merely about the impact on employees of their business decisions, and regarded the business decisions themselves as being no business of a trade union - the "management's right to manage".

The case appears to widen the duty to consult to include the reasons for the redundancies. Given that the reason for the redundancies was the closure of the pit, this meant consultation had to include the reason for the closure itself.

How ironic that it is a court decision that has begun to narrow the gap between UK law and most other European countries, while the New Labour government leaves anti-union legislation in place and refuses to introduce a level-playing-field in employment rights.

It will be interesting to see some considered analysis of the judgement. Initial coverage includes:

Telent, Marconi & GEC Pensions

The obligation to pay off defecits in order to close a pension scheme has given some comfort and protection to employees in many companies. The trend to sell pension schemes to finance companies is now beginning to undermine this.

Telent is the current name for what's left of the services part of what was Marconi. Despite massive job losses over recent years, it still employs about 2000 people in the UK - a mixture of engineers based in the field and sites in Coventry, Lancashire and London.

On 25th September it was announced that Telent had been bought by "Pension Corporation", based in Guernsey.

Fears are now rising that the new owners may try to raid the pensions of current Telent employees, as well as pensioners who worked for Marconi and GEC in the past. UNITE is lobbying MPs representing the workers and pensioners.

Let's hope that big business hasn't found yet another way of transferring assets from working people to themselves!

Gazette publishes NEC candidate list

Amicus Unity Gazette, the left grouping within our union, has published a list of candidates it is supporting for the forthcoming NEC elections.

Strictly speaking, the elections are for 80 seats on UNITE's first Executive Council, and this material is about the election of the 40 seats which members of the Amicus section will be able to vote on.

Nomination papers should now have been received by branches, ready for use at November and December meetings. Papers aren't being sent to workplace representatives, who have to request them via their Regional Office. Reps have been sent a copy of the election briefing booklet, enclosed with the latest issue of "The Activist" magazine.

My own letter appealing for nominations and support is here.

Monday 22 October 2007

Agency & Temporary Workers Bill, Trade Union Freedom Bill

Last Friday, important private members bills were up for their second reading in parliament. The Temporary & Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill and the Trade Union Freedom Bill were up for their second readings (again).

The TUC had demanded support for the agency workers' bill, but had been strangely silent on the trade union freedom bill.

Both bills were talked out by (UNITE member) Jim Fitzpatrick MP last time. This time Paul Farelly MP (who put forward the agency workers' bill) blamed a "small conservative wrecking crew". The bills are now up for reading again on 26th October.

What a disgrace that matters of vital importance to millions of working people can't even get debated in parliament, thanks to an unholy alliance of Labour ministers and Tory MPs.

Siemens pensions, state pensions

UNITE has issued another press release as part of the campaign against the closure of Siemens' final salary pension scheme.

This comes after ministers announced a measly £3.40 (3.9%) increase in the state pension from 1st April 2008. According to the National Pensioners' Convention, the real rate of inflation faced by pensioners is double the average figure because the items on which they spend their money, like food and fuel bills, have increased greatly over the last few months.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Asbestos: Pleural Plaques Ruling

The House Of Lords has ruled that no compensation should be paid to workers exposed to asbestos who develop Pleural Plaques. Quite rightly, UNITE has denounced this heartless ruling.

The insurance industry argued that Pleural Plaques (small, flat discs formed on the membrane between the lungs and the ribcage) which form as a result of asbestos exposure are "not a disease". Their argument hinged on claiming that this scarring on the lungs has no symptoms.

However, the condition is associated with an increased risk of other asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. Not surprisingly, people diagnosed with Pleural Plaques are often extremely distressed and fearful for the future.

Should protecting the profits of the companies that insured employers who continued to expose their workers to asbestos decades after the risks were known really come ahead of compensating workers suffering extreme anxiety about the possible time-bomb ticking inside them?

Wednesday 17 October 2007

NHS deaths

Members in my workplace received a lot of support during our dispute from the UNISON Manchester Community & Mental Health branch, so we've been taking a keen interest in their current dispute.

The trust they work for had pushed through changes, which the union had fought against. Despite considerable success, they didn't completely stop the attacks on services. Fighting service cuts is made much harder by the Tory anti-union laws that New Labour has left in place - industrial action is only legal if it relates to an employment dispute - excluding action against service cuts.

Tragically, the consequences of the changes are now coming to light. Tonight's Manchester Evening News reports that at least one patient has now died in circumstances their family blame on the changes. The NHS trade unionists who fought against the changes deserve our admiration and thanks. Instead, the trust is busy trying to victimise Karen Reissmann, one of the key activists who led the campaign. Thanksfully members are fighting again, demanding her reinstatement.

This news comes in the wake of the terrible news from Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS trust, which my fellow NEC member Gill George (in typically forthright style) describes as "mass murder".

In both cases the market-driven "reform" agenda and the government targets associated with it are being put ahead of patient care - not what I believe the NHS should be about.

All this makes the NHS Together demonstration on 3rd November even more important.

Manufacturing Lobby

Today saw UNITE staging a lobby of MPs at the House of Commons in defence of manufacturing jobs.

To coincide with this, the union put out a press release highlighting the impact of government procurement policy, which doesn't take into account the economic impact of decisions.

This article from The Journal in the north-east highlights the Spennymoor Electrolux plant, which is under threat as the company considers moving production to Eastern Europe.

The government seems more interested in keeping a few "non-domiciled" billionaires in the country than hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and service sector jobs.

Monday 15 October 2007

Letter requesting nominations

I am asking workplace representatives in the Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT sector to nominate me for UNITE's first Executive Council.

This letter explains why I am standing for the NEC, how nominations can be made, and how you can help with the campaign.

You need Acrobat Reader to read the letter - if you don't have this already it is available free from

Saturday 13 October 2007

NHS Together Demonstration, 3rd November

UNITE, along with other unions, is encouraging all members to attend the NHS Together demonstration in London on Saturday 3rd November.

The Amicus web site includes a campaign page with details, leaflets, materials and contacts to book transport to London.

The defence of the NHS isn't just an issue for our members who work in the health service - it's an issue for us all.

Members in my own workplace have got a lot more involved in the issue recently, because we received a lot of support during our strikes earlier this year at Fujitsu from a local UNISON health branch who were on strike against cuts at the same time. Karen Reissmann, one of their leading activists, has now been suspended by their employer. To their credit, UNISON members are taking extensive strike action and campaigning for her reinstatement. After working so closely together during our strikes, our members have been particularly keen to offer financial and practical support to their campaign.

Thursday 11 October 2007

Outsourcing, TUPE and union recognition

UNITE recently secured a very important ruling by the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) which will help many people affected by outsourcing, including those working for the IT outsourcing companies in our sector.

The case arose where Boots had outsourced IT functions to Xansa, resulting in employees transferring into Xansa under the TUPE regulations. Under TUPE, union recognition normally transfers with the employees, but many outsourcing companies try to avoid the bargaining unit being viable in the long term using tactics like:

  • Restricting the bargaining unit only to those who originally transferred, excluding new employees or existing employees who start working on the contract
  • Telling employees they can't move out of the original contract into the wider company unless they harmonise terms and conditions and leave the bargaining unit
  • Mixing up the TUPEd employees with others from the wider company who are on different terms and conditions
The CAC is the body charged with ruling on applications for union recognition under the statutory procedure (as well as a few other functions). In this case, the argument was about what the appropriate bargaining unit would be. The ruling on Case Number: TUR1/568(2006) is available on the CAC web site. The decision says:

17. The bargaining unit consists of those workers employed by Xansa UK Ltd working at the Boots site in Nottingham who are either transferees from Boots to Xansa (whether they have subsequently moved onto Xansa terms and conditions or not) or who have at least one year’s continuous service on the Boots site.

This means that the bargaining unit won't dwindle and "die on the vine" over time, but can include new employees. It also unlinks bargaining unit membership from harmonisation.
CAC rulings don't form a precedent in the true legal sense (that other courts are obliged to follow the ruling), but the fact that the CAC has ruled this way in one case clearly opens it up as a possible avenue for unions in other cases.

It will be interesting to see how widely UNITE and other unions adopt this approach to defend and extend recognition after outsourcing.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Pensions under attack

I wrote on Saturday about the latest round of attacks on our pensions and the possibility of industrial action at Siemens against this.

The scale of the attack by employers in our sector is huge. As well as Siemens, I understand that Capgemini, Atos Origin and Unisys have announced their intention to close their Defined Benefit pension schemes to existing members. Do you know of others in our sector?

All eyes on the resistance at Siemens...

Postal strikes

Royal Mail management have sparked a wave of unofficial strikes by imposing savage changes to working conditions today.

It seems that Royal Mail are setting out to smash the CWU - it's not in the interests of any trade unionist to let that happen.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Gordon Brown said that the dispute "should be brought to an end on the terms that have been offered". The TUC's response seems mild, to say the least!

Election process for UNITE's first Executive Council begins

The postal strike means that paperwork may arrive at branches later than planned, but copies of the letter and booklet accompanying the nomination forms have been placed on the union's web site. These are in PDF format - if you can't open the file you can download the free "Acrobat Reader" software from

Key points to grasp are:

  • branches can nominate at their November & December meetings only
  • workplace representatives must request nomination forms from their Regional Office
  • workplace representatives must have their nomination endorsed by a meeting of the members they represent which takes place during November & December
If you're in the EEE&IT sector and want to nominate me, the following information may be useful:
  • Name: Ian Allinson
  • Membership number: 30439666
  • Branch: Greater Manchester IT
  • Branch number: 9827M
If you want to invite me to your workplace or branch, please get in touch - see the "About & Contact" box on the top right of this page.

Privatisation - in our sector?

Most people don't think of privatisation as an issue directly affecting members in our sector - except when we're working for the companies doing the privatising!

Jersey Telecom is an exception - it's still in the public sector, and members are fighting to keep it that way.

600 jobs scrapped at Atmel, North Tyneside

The news that Atmel plans to close its North Tyneside chip plant gets widespread coverage in the media - here's the BBC report.

Losing your job at any time is hard, but losing it at the same time as all your colleagues who will all be chasing the same few jobs is even worse. How many will be forced into "McJobs" like so many before them who've lost out as manufacturing jobs have been devastated?

Atmel got a grant of £19.9m from the DTI to take over the site seven years ago, and demands are growing that they should be forced to pay it back.

Atmel refused to recognise the union and they admit that the closure was to reduce costs and increase profits.

We must build the union across our sector if we're to have any chance of stopping the jobs massacre in both manufacturing and services.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

EEE&IT sector conferences

I understand that Regional Sector Conferences will be held during the first three months of 2008.

Only those registered on the membership system as reps/stewards are invited, and in the past there have been big problems with people not getting the invitation. You can help avoid this problem by checking that the union has you correctly recorded as a rep now.

I understand that a date has also been set for the National Sector Conference for our sector - Friday 6th June 2008 in Brighton. The pattern last time was that you were expected to be there the evening before. If you hope to be a delegate, pencil it in your diary now.

Trade Union Freedom Bill

Now that it seems Brown isn't calling an autumn election after all, I hope that the Trade Union Freedom Bill can get its second reading as planned on 19th October.

Last time the bill came up, it was talked out (along with the Agency workers Bill) by Jim Fitzpatrick MP - supposedly part of our own Amicus parliamentary group!

The bill proposes to:

  • Improve protection for those participating in lawful industrial action.
  • Modernise the law to accommodate labour market changes.
  • Simplify notice and balloting rules to reduce overly bureaucratic restrictions, while retaining the need for a ballot.
  • Amend the law so that employers are only granted an injunction when they have shown that they are more likely to succeed in court than the union.
This is a long way short of repeal of all the anti-union laws, but at least a step in the right direction.

There's useful campaign information on many web sites including:
  • (including plans for a rally on 18th October
  • (including a postcard you can send your MP on the resources page)

Monday 8 October 2007

INTEL laundry workers demonstrate

This story from the US illustrates the way that many employers in our sector will go to great lengths to prevent working people having an effective voice.

The argument that they're protecting the rights of employees who don't want to be in the union is fast becoming the standard union-busters' spin on both sides of the Atlantic.

Note that the US trade union "UNITE HERE" is totally separate from our own UNITE - The Union.

Nominations for the election of the UNITE first Executive Council

This week, papers should be posted out to Amicus section branches (and possibly workplace representatives) for the elections to UNITE’s first Executive Council. This will consist of 40 members from the former Amicus and 40 from the former TGWU. The Executive Council will be the governing body of the new union.

The Amicus NEC has decided the process for elections to the 40 Amicus seats – you can read a summary on

Those of us working in the EEE&IT sector will get a vote for one seat for our sector, four women’s seats, and one seat for whichever region our branch is in.

During November and December, workplace representatives can hold meetings of the members they represent to make nominations for the sector seat and the women’s seats. All members can attend their own branch, which can make nominations for the regional seat and the women’s seats.

The composition of the Executive Council will have a big influence on what sort of union UNITE becomes. As someone who wants to see the union doing more campaigning and organising and being more accountable to its members and grass-roots, I’ll be trying to nominate the candidates backed by “Amicus Unity Gazette”, our broad left organisation, just as I did in 2003. I hope you’ll do the same.

Getting a lot of nominations doesn’t mean a candidate is sure to get elected, but it does help.

Sunday 7 October 2007

Rally and lobby of parliament on manufacturing - 17th Oct

UNITE has called a lobby of parliament on Wednesday 17th October. Details and campaign materials are on the Amicus web site and available from Regional Offices.

Even if you can't get to the event yourself, you can help by contacting your MP. If they haven't done so already, you can urge them to sign the Early Day Motion (EDM 1689).

With a million manufacturing jobs lost over the last ten years, this really is a crucial issue.

The government bail-out of Northern Rock has prompted a lot of people to contrast this with the refusal to intervene effectively to protect manufacturing industry and jobs. It's simply not good enough to leave the market to wreck people's lives and claim nothing can be done.

After ten years of a Labour government, why have we still got worse employment protection than other European countries?

After ten years of a Labour government, why have we still got anti-union laws designed to make it hard for workers to defend their jobs and industries? Or to quote Tony Blair, why is "British law the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world"?

Saturday 6 October 2007

Pensions attack - resistance!

Over the last few years, many employers closed their "final salary" or "defined benefit" pension schemes to new members. In many cases they cut benefits or increased employee contributions too.

There are worrying signs that employers are now back for another slice of our pension rights. It's only a few weeks since UNITE condemned Unisys trying it on, and they aren't the only ones.

Members in Siemens have now voted in a consultative ballot by over 80% in support of industrial action to stop similar moves. This resistance has already produced widespread media interest (including online in ComputerWorld UK, Global Pensions, The Times, and Computer Weekly). This in itself must be worrying Siemens, as the union prepares for a legal ballot.

Employers across the sector will be watching the outcome keenly, so the results will indirectly affect pensions at other companies too. Industrial action is never easy, and always a last resort for members. When members anywhere do decide action is necessary to defend their rights, all of us should get behind them.

The fact that the state pension is so pitiful makes occupational pensions even more vital for those fortunate enough to have one at all. Restoring the state pension to the level it would have been at if the Tories hadn't broken the link to average earnings is long overdue.

UNITE is running a workshop on pensions for reps in our sector on 7th November, in conjunction with the National Sector Committee meeting the next day. Let's hope all the issues get a good airing there.

The technology behind this site

I've set this site up on the free "blogger" service, because it's quick and easy. If it proves popular, I may move it to a proper domain and some better software later. Let me know what you think.

For those interested in the technology, my main gripes with Blogger (and/or the template) are:

  1. It's not fully standards compliant (if you're interested in this, install the Firefox web browser and the indispensable "Web Developer Toolbar" extension to easily see all the problems)
  2. It uses a massive JavaScript file (>60K) and three different CSS files, slowing download
I'm using the excellent reCAPTCHA tool to let you see my email address without getting loads of unwanted spam email. There are lots of similar tools, but this one performs the useful function of helping digitise old books at the same time!