Sunday 31 October 2010

The lies about the cuts

The proposed cuts to public services threaten the welfare state at a fundamental level. If they go through, life for many working class people will be more like that in the 1930s, before it was established. The attacks on the welfare state cover every area, including health, education, welfare benefits, pensions, care for disabled and old people, and much more.

To try to force through the cuts, the Con-Dem government and its allies in the media and business have to sell a series of lies to enough of the population to prevent us uniting to mount sufficiently effective resistance to the cuts. Every union activist has a responsibility to challenge these lies to promote effective resistance. Let's look at a few:

LIE 1: We're All In This Together

The Con-Dems would have us believe that we all face a financial crisis and all have to tighten our belts. What a sick joke coming from a cabinet a majority of whom are millionaires. They aren't reliant on public services like the rest of us. Their vast wealth provides security for them should they fall ill, lose their jobs (let's hope!) or grow old. They can afford to buy the best care and support for their families too. Why should we start tightening our belts until theirs' reach the same circumference as ours?

In reality, there isn't much belt-tightening going on at the top at all. Friday's Guardian reported that the Chief Executive Officers of FTSE100 companies had seen their earnings rise by 55% in a year. Total pay for all the board members fo the top 350 listed companies went up 45%.

When they pretend not to be enjoying slashing public services, I can't help picturing Cameron & Clegg as prefects at some public school, beating some kid's backside and saying with a perverted grin "this is hurting me more than it's hurting you".
LIE 2: The Cuts Won't Really Affect Us in the Private Sector
There's a clever bit of language being used to peddle this lie - referring to the cuts as in the "public sector" instead of "public services". The reality is that unless you are a millionaire, you rely on public services at key points in your life or that of your family. It is these services that are under threat.

But there are other ways we in the private sector will be affected too.

Many of us work for companies who, directly or indirectly, sell products and services to the public sector. These contracts are already being slashed, impacting on our own employment prospects.

Many of us have family or friends working in the public sector, many of whose lives are about to be torn apart.

When the recession started, may profitable private companies used it as an excuse to attack jobs, pay and pensions and to push through changes they had always wanted. If the putlic sector gets away with slashing jobs, pay and pensions, and tearing up employment contracts, this will encourage private sector employers to come back for more.

Throwing hundreds of thousands of workers on the dole will dramatically reduce their spending power, reducing the market for the products and services that workers in the private sector produce, further depressing the economy.
LIE 3: The Cuts Won't Really Affect Us, Only Work-Shy Scroungers
The government has targetted the very poorest in society, those dependent on state benefits, for the biggest cuts. This will have a devastating impact on many of those who are out of work, old or seriously ill.

Many people have heard a few stories about people on the fiddle, and the media ensures that everyone hears such stories (true or invented) second hand. Of course if the National Minimum Wage wasn't so pitifully low, decent childcare was readily available, and employers weren't so ready to sack people who are ill, fewer people would be tempted to fiddle.

But really the issue of "scroungers" is just a distraction, intended to get working class people squabbling over a few quid amongst ourselves. The real robbers are in the city. It was irresponsible gambling in the city that triggered this recession. Vodafone have just been let off paying about £6bn of unpaid tax.

The rise in unemployment was caused by employers throwing millions of people out of jobs, not by a pandemic of the laziness virus. The problem doesn't lie amongst the unemployed, but in the market economy that dictates that it is now more profitable to prevent people working and have fewer jobs.

The key argument though is about why the Con-Dems are so keen to target those not working. Cutting benefits to those out of work won't increase the number of jobs. What it will do is make people increasingly desperate to compete for the small number of jobs available, allowing employers to drive down wages for those of us in work, increasing the profits enjoyed in the boardrooms at our expense. That's the fundamental reason why people in work and out of work must unite against the cuts.
LIE 4: The Debt Is So Big There Is No Alternative
The debt is indeed big, thanks to the collossal bailout of the financial markets. After years of privatising profits, governments around the world nationalised the debts. We had a few months where there was serious discussion about how unfetterred markets had caused disaster, then the neo-liberals went back on the offensive and now they want more privatisation and deregulation as the "cure" for the debt.

But it's worth getting the debt in perspective. As these graphs show, UK national debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has gone up in 2009 and 2010 (when it exceeded 50%). But this is still low by historical standards, FAR lower than after World War II, the period when there was consensus between the main political parties that we had to invest in setting up the welfare state - health, education, benefits, housing etc - and grow the economy in order to pay off the debt.

It isn't the size of the debt that is driving the Con-Dems (and some other countries) to adopt harsh "austerity" policies. It is a continuation of the neoliberal economic madness that triggered the crash in the first place, combined with a knee-jerk desire to get out of the crisis by making working class people pay.

"There Is No Alternative" (TINA) is a line used by Thatcher to justify Tory assaults on working people in the 1980s, and by Blair to justify his wars in the 2000s. Even if they couldn't think of something positive to do instead, NOT wreaking dustruction on millions of people would have been a better alternative to what they did.
LIE 5: The Public Sector Had Grown Too Big and Greedy
It wasn't teachers, nurses, refuse collectors and all the other public sector workers who caused the crisis. Financial institutions had succeeded in persuading governments that they didn't need to hold much capital, so when the US economy took a small dip and some people couldn't repay high-interest mortgages, they ran out of cash. As financial institutions had bundled up these debts with lots of others and sold them to each other all round the world, they all panicked about what bad debts they might hold, and stopped lending to each other - the Credit Crunch. This triggered a collapse in large sections of the "real" economy.
LIE 6: The Cuts Are Essential To Protect the Economy
Throwing half a million public sector workers out of their jobs, along with half a million private sector workers who provide goods and services to the public sector, while cutting the incomes of many in the poorest areas, are measures likely to deflate the economy and increase the chances of a prolonged slump or double-dip recession. How on earth can the private sector "take up the slack" when the people who might buy their products and services are skint?

There are many detailed alternative arguments, including UNITE's "Alternative Economic Programme", the TUC's "All Pain, No Gain: The Case Against the Cuts", "The Case Against The Cuts" from PCS, and "One Million Climate Jobs" from the Campaign Against Climate Change and various unions.
LIE 7: There's Nothing You Can Do

We have to make stronger links between workplaces and local campaigns in every town and city. There are thousands of group, protests and activities against the cuts springing up in every town and city (like Right To Work in Manchester where I live). Get involved. Use UNITE's Area Activist meetings and local Trades Councils to make links.

Whenever any group of us is in the firing line, whether that's in the public sector, local community or the private sector, we need to unite behind them. That must include backing the strikes to defend the fire service in London (FBU) and pensions at the BBC (NUJ).

And of course, don't neglect developing union strength in your own workplace. Without strong and effective workplace organisation, we are building on sand.

Monday 25 October 2010

UNITE General Secretary election opens

Today voting papers are being sent out to all UNITE members for the election for our next General Secretary. An election for the General Secretary of the biggest union in the country would be important at any time. It takes on even greater significance coming when we face the biggest onslaught from government and employers in a lifetime. The winner will have a very significant influence over how our union responds, and the votes cast will be a barometer of the mood of the members.

So what of the candidates?

Gail Cartmail still doesn't seem to have developed a clear position on the future of the union, secured little support in nominations and I believe she stands no chance of winning.

Les Bayliss seems more focussed on winning support from the government, employers and the Tory press than from members. Les stands for a dramatic shift to the right in the union (when the Sun and the Spectator back a candidate as the "moderate" the alarm bells should ring!). He argues for a strategy of avoiding confrontation with government and employers, pursuing "partnership" and seeking to avoid defeat by avoiding conflict. How anyone can believe this is even an option in the current climate is beyond me. He has publicly criticised the conduct of the BA dispute, not for allowing it to drag on without mobilising sufficient pressure to win, but for confronting the union-buster Willie Walsh, and declared the dispute "lost" while negotiations were ongoing. He sees the dispute as damaging the "reputation" of the union. Many feel that an Assistant General Secretary declaring a dispute lost while members are still fighting against victimisation brings the union into disrepute with its own members - surely the first duty of a union officer is to support the members?

Bayliss is the only candidate who has refused to take part in hustings with other candidates, which would allow reps to ask him questions and test his arguments alongside the other candidates. The other three candidates all took part in an excellent hustings at the IT & Comms National Industrial Sector Committee recently, while Bayliss declined.

Bayliss has also alienated many members thanks to the tidal wave of unsolicited email (and some post) that many have been recieving from his campaign. Many believe he has abused access to union membership data.

In this context, I think the bigger question is whether Les Bayliss is fit to keep his current job, rather than whether he'll win the General Secretary election.

Which brings me to the two serious candidates - Len McCluskey and Jerry Hicks.

Len McCluskey is backed by the United Left, the "broad left" grouping in UNITE. He is backed by Tony Woodley, and broadly stands for a continuation of Woodley's approach. McCluskey won far more nominations than any other candidate, and is generally seen as the favourite to win.

Jerry Hicks is the only candidate who is a lay member of the union, rather than the three Assistant General Secretaries - part of the current leadership team. He's standing on a platform arguing that UNITE needs to change significantly to respond effectively to the current economic and political climate, and that only someone from outside the machine can deliver this. His campaign is run on a shoe-string compared to his rivals, but is clearly striking a chord with many members. His "what I stand for" includes:

  • Change from a “can’t do” union to a “can do” union; from a campaigning union to a fighting union; from a centralised top-down union to a bottom-up union; from a union afraid of people doing the wrong thing, to a union determined to act; from a climate of fear to a culture of open debate;
  • Officials to be elected by the members, not appointed;
  • Officials to be accountable to members through the appropriate lay member committee;
  • Reps, stewards and branch officers to have access to membership information about the people they represent. Internal politics at the top should no longer be prioritised above effective organising and campaigning on the ground;
  • A General Secretary on an average member’s wage;
  • Resources as close to the members as possible. Branches, Area Activist Committees, Regional Councils, Sector Committees and Equality Committees all need resources and authority if they are going to be at the heart of involving members in our campaigning and organising;
  • Invest in training our activists, the future of our union;
  • A dedicated unit to support officers, reps and stewards during ballots and disputes;
  • Mergers if they make us stronger, not just bigger;
  • Every equality committee to have at least one Executive Council member reporting to them;
  • Political structures open to every UNITE member who contributes to the political fund, not just a tiny minority;
  • An end to breaking our own rulebook by under-funding organising. Properly resourced organising, linked in to the union’s structures, to build up our strength and our activist base;
  • Access to legal advice without slow and bureaucratic procedures
I'll be voting for Jerry.

Whatever the result, it will be best for UNITE if there is the highest possible turnout in the election, so every activist should be encouraging members to vote. Distribution of a candidate's campaign leaflets and posters within the workplace is allowed, but no union resources or data may be used to support a particular candidate.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

HP plans 1300 more job cuts in the UK

UNITE's press release highlights the butchery still going on in our industry.

Dates for UNITE calendar 2011

Two new sets of dates for the various UNITE constitutional committees have been issued by head office. They don't yet include the next round of industrial, equality and area conferences, which I believe also have to be in 2011.










1st Quarter

December 2009 – early January 2011

Jan 4 to 21

Jan 24 - 31

Feb 1 - 7

2nd Quarter

Late February – end March 2011

April 4 - 19

April 20 - 29

May 4 - 11

3rd Quarter

June 2011

July 4 – 22

July 25 – 29

June 27 – July 1

4th Quarter*

September 2011

October 3 – 21

October 21 – 28

October 31 – Nov 4



Executive Council

24 - 26 January


17 February

Executive Council

29 – 31 March


20 April

Executive Council

17 – 19 May

1st Rules Conference

13 – 15 June


23 June

Executive Council

19 – 21 July


1 September

Trades Union Congress

12 – 14 September

Executive Council

20 – 22 September

Labour Party Conference

25 – 29 September


20 October

Executive Council

22 – 24 November


15 December

Thursday 7 October 2010

Statements from UNITE General Secretary candidates published

The section of the UNITE web site dealing with the General Secretary election has been updated, and now includes copies of the statements from the four candidates which are being mailed out to every member next week.