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!