Monday 6 October 2008

UNITE-Amicus NW Regional Council

An interesting meeting today. The highlight was a discussion introduced by Carolyn Jones from the Institute of Employment Rights. By coincidence, my own branch had decided to affiliate to IER last week.

Carolyn made the point that the failure of the "free-market" neo-liberal agenda in recent months doesn't yet seem to have filtered through to governments. They still prefer the discredited free market to effective regulation. The best way to regulate employment is through effective free trade union organisation.

The IER is campaigning to get three of the key aspects of the Trade Union Freedom Bill added as amendments to the Employment Bill currently going through parliament. These cover:

  1. Simplifying the industrial action ballot procedures. This would speed up the process and action being outlawed just because of some trivial problem with the union membership records.
  2. Restricting employers' use of injunctions to where there was a probability of a successful legal challenge to the action, rather than just a vague threat as at present.
  3. Tightening up restrictions on the use of replacement labour during official industrial action (e.g. the use of agencies).
The important European Court of Justice (ECJ) cases (Laval, Viking, Ruffert) were also discussed - these mark a fundamental threat to union rights. Counsel for the UK government outrageously argued at the ECJ that there was no fundamental right to strike, despite this being part of ILO standards.

The UNITE EC had decided to back the IER postcard campaign to MPs in relation to the Employment Bill. The North-West regional council decided to take several important steps to help:
  1. Writing to branches telling them about the campaign, encouraging them to affiliate to IER (there's a discount for UNITE branches at the moment), and offering them postcards to distribute.
  2. Reimbursing branches for postage costs for sending off the postcards.
  3. Emailing out to workplace reps in the region.
  4. Getting officers to distribute postcards to workplaces.
  5. Paying for places at the upcoming IER conferences (12th November is in Liverpool).
  6. Donating £500 to IER.
Sometimes union meetings can seem a bit disconnected from the business of strengthening our campaigning and organising, so it was a delight to be part of such a constructive debate.

There was a good debate on the proposed Manchester Congestion Charge, with strong opposition to the plan as it stands. A referendum is due to be help for all Greater Manchester residents in November - December. I understand the Congestion Charge will be the main topic at the next Manchester Area Activists meeting, on 18th November.

Sadly, the representative from the Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT sector (my own) had to step down from the Regional Council for family reasons. Best wishes to her. Unfortunately there is no facility in our rules to replace missing delegates, so our sector is now joins the Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, Motor Vehicles and Process sectors which are already unrepresented, as is the Disabled Members Forum.

The council has become increasingly frustrated with some of its members who rarely attend, so it was agreed to post the attendance records on the union web site in the hope that sectors can encourage their delegates to carry out the function for which they were elected.

The elephant in the room (the emergency Executive Council meeting planned for Thursday) got a lot of references. If the EC does change the union's rules to delay their implementation, this would have implications for every lay structure in the union - further extending the current limbo and divisions. This cannot be in the interests of members.

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