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 www.reinstate-karen.org.

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 Sheila.foley@mhsc.nhs.uk and copy to her union branch unison@zen.co.uk
b) Write to Alan Johnson, secretary of state for health on johnsona@parliament.uk
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 www.reinstate-karen.org or www.karenreissmann.wordpress.com.
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 Sheila.foley@mhsc.nhs.uk and copy to her union branch unison@zen.co.uk
b) Write to Alan Johnson, secretary of state for health on johnsona@parliament.uk
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.