Sunday 29 April 2012

Union membership and wage premium for 2011

This week saw the publication of the latest report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on trade union membership - Trade Union Membership 2011.

Overall, the picture on union membership remains bleak, with the number of union members falling slightly (to 6.4m) and the "union density" (the proportion of employees who are in a union) falling slightly (to 26%).  There was a slight rise in union membership in the private sector.  Union density in the public sector rose slightly as non-members lost their jobs faster than members.

On a more positive note, the "union wage premium" (the difference between average hourly earnings for union members and non-members) continues to rise.  In 2011 the premium stood at 8% in the private sector 18% in the public sector.  This difference is partly explained by the difference in union density - only 14.1% of private sector workers were in unions compared to 56.5% of public sector workers.

Across the whole workforce, the average hourly earnings for a union member was £14.18 compared to £12.01 for a non-member - a difference of 18.1% which is worth pointing out when people question the value of union organisation.

We're NOT all in it together

I've come across two sets of information recently which have rammed home the point that we're not "all in it together".

The Sunday Times has published its annual "Rich List".  Even their own headline makes the point "The Sunday Times Rich List reveals that Britain’s wealthiest people are richer than ever despite the worst recession since the 1930s".  Even The Telegraph, that well-known friend of the poor, highlights the discrepancy between the rest of us and the top 1000 people: "Their total fortune has risen by just under five per cent since 2011, to £414 billion, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List.  That exceeds the previous record of £412.8 billion set in 2008, which came just a few months before the financial crash from which the wider British economy has yet to recover".

The second set of information has received a lot less publicity.  I found it via the blog of the economist Michael Roberts.  In this article on the weak US recovery, he highlights how as profit rates recovered, corporations hoarded profits, rather than reinvesting them, undermining the recovery of the wider economy.  The figures are staggering - he explains:

"US corporate profits have recovered dramatically since the trough at the end of 2008.  They surpassed their previous peak in 2006 by early 2010.  This was achieved by a massive reduction in costs (including labour costs) and a strike in investment.  But most of the recovery in profits since the end of 2008 has been hoarded and not spent on new investment.  According to these latest figures, undistributed profits have accumulated to $744bn from just $19bn at the end of 2008!   Profits are up around $1trn since then, but the cash accumulation is up over $700bn, so only 30% of the increase in profits has been spent on new investment.  This explains why the economic recovery has been so weak, with the US economy growing only barely at 2% a year (1.6% yoy according to the latest Q4’11 GDP data)."
So next time some millionaire cabinet minister (and most of them are) tells us that there's no money for decent jobs or for the services we all rely on, let's remember that there are individuals and corporations sitting on vast wealth which could be far better used by those who produced it.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

UNITE North-West Regional Committee, April 2012

1. Regional Secretary Paul Finegan was absent due to illness.  His deputy, Mick Whitley, stood in.

2. The chair highlighted the poor attendance by lay members at meetings of many committees in the region and the increasing numbers of complaints from members about full time officers.  He was concerned that the north-west had lost its position as one of the best regions in the union.  I raised concerns about the lack of management in the region – there should be no need to wait for member complaints if officers fail to schedule meetings or submit reports.  Mick said that a tighter rein would be kept on the sector secretaries.

3. I complained about the decision to merge the NW Electrical Engineering & Electronics (EEE) and IT & Comms (ITC) Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs) which had been taken without any communication or consultation with committee members.  The chair agreed that a meeting with the relevant officers and members of the RISCs would be organised to discuss the proposal.

4. The Regional Committee approved the proposal to create a Fujitsu North-West branch.

5. The region will not only write to all branch officers about the elections in June, but to all reps as well – elections are required in both all branches and all workplaces and not all are the same or in good communication with each other.

6. The Regional Secretary had written to branches saying that “provided you are a constituted branch and we have received completed signed copies of your Branch returns accompanied by relevant bank statements”...”As per rule – Branch Administration and/or Fund payments due to the Branch will continue to be paid by BACs payment directly into your Unity Trust bank accounts”.  Given that payments to some branches had been stopped without any explanation, I had queried what a “constituted branch” meant.  The Regional Secretary had responded that “they simply need to have the appropriate elected officials in place and for those individuals to be logged on to our membership system”.  I asked why funds had then been blocked to constituted branches, and was told by the chair that this was a national action, not from the region.

7. The regional chair said that they would do a briefing for branches on doing accounts.  He suggested that a new handbook for branch officers was needed (in addition to the training courses available) given that new officers would be elected in June.

8. UNITE Political Director Steve Hart explained the union’s political strategy.

9. The Regional Committee pledged its ongoing support for the workers at Mayr Melnhoff Packaging who have been treated disgracefully but who are putting up a great fight to keep the plant open.  It was agreed that the weekly schedule of activities would be circulated so that members could join in and show their support.

10. Senior Regional Organiser Mike Thompson gave an update on organising.  The highlight was the successful claim for union recognition via the CAC at Eddie Stobart Daresbury.

11. The Regional Committee discussed a number of remits from RISCs and AACs.  Due to the way the meetings are conducted, it is hard to tell what decisions (if any) are been taken.  These are key ones I’m confident about and that weren’t just noted:

a. A remit from the Manchester Area Activists Committee calling on the EC to immediately adopt a policy similar to that agreed at the 2000 MSF conference (to ban secret payments to union employees) and to bring forward a similar rule change to the next rules conference was rejected.
b. A remit  from the Manchester Area Activists Committee on cleansing of membership records was agreed.
c. A remit from the Merseyside Area Activists Committee supporting “Occupy Liverpool” was agreed.
d. A remit from the Merseyside Area Activists Committee calling for a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of militant labour in Liverpool was agreed.
e. A motion from the Merseyside Area Activists Committee opposing the EDL was agreed.

12. UNITE organiser Michelle Smith gave an update on Liverpool Against the Cuts and members are encouraged to get involved.

13. It was agreed to hold open Area Activists Meetings in each area before the public sector strikes on 10 May and to invite PCS to join these, in line with our cooperation agreement.

14. A request from the Manchester Area Activists Committee to appoint a lead office for Greater Manchester who could be the union’s public face, circulate information about campaigns, and liaise with campaigns in the area, will be considered by the regional Finance & General Purposes Committee.

15. Terry Abbot was elected as a delegate to the national Labour Party conference.

16. A replacement female delegate to the UNITE policy conference is required.  It was agreed to ask female Regional Committee members who weren’t in attendance.

17. John Lea has been appointed as the Regional Education Officer.

18. The UNITE NW retired members are providing stewards for the Pensioners’ Parliament organised by the National Pensioners’ Convention and are asking for a stall to highlight the union’s campaign on fuel poverty and UNITE membership in return.

19. Pete Gillard has been elected as chair of the Standing Orders Committee for the 2012 Policy Conference.  The number of motions submitted had dropped from 330 to 210 for this conference.  Five motions (including two from NW branches) had been ruled out of order.  Each branch and committee can submit one amendment to a motion.

20. Helen Osgood gave the equalities report.  Equality Reps training is still available on 14th May – details are on the UNITE web site.  Funding was agreed for a number of important equality events.

Sunday 22 April 2012

UNITE workplace and branch elections 2012

Every UNITE workplace and branch should be holding elections for reps and branch officers in the near future.  This is the first time there's been a UNITE-wide process, rather than different processes for former Amicus and former TGWU members.

This is our chance to renew the activist base of the union, so everyone should put real effort into making sure the process is well publicised and lots of new reps and branch officers are elected.

The UNITE Rulebook was updated following last year's Rules Conference.  The main relevant sections are rules:
  • Rule 6, which defines who is eligible to hold which lay positions in the union (i.e. positions where you're not employed by the union).  There's EC guidance on the application of Rule 6, but this doesn't yet reflect the work done on an updated version.  For these elections the key points are pretty obvious - members in a workplace can stand to be representatives, members in a branch can stand to be branch officers.  The definition of a "workplace" is necessarily flexible.
  • NOTE: Rule 6 defines the term of office as three years, but this is a maximum, not a minimum.  There's nothing to stop a branch or workplace holding elections more frequently if they wish.  If membership is relatively volatile or there are new activists getting involved, I'd personally suggest a more frequent election would be a good idea.
  • Rule 17 covers Branches.  Rule 17.7 says "Each Branch shall have for its management a Chair, a Treasurer, an Equality Officer and a Secretary and such other officers as the Branch may elect. They shall be elected at a Branch meeting by show of hands, or by ballot, if so decided by the meeting. The election shall take place and be completed not later than June 30 in each third year, and the elected candidates shall take office the following July for three years. Casual vacancies may be filled at an ordinary Branch meeting, but notice of the impending election must be given to members of the Branch on the notice convening the meeting.  The positions of Secretary and Treasurer may be held by the same member if the Branch so chooses".
  • Rule 18 covers Workplace Representation.  It says that "At each workplace, the members employed at that workplace, shall elect from amongst themselves, at least every 3 years, 1 or more of the following representatives": Shop stewards/workplace representatives; Safety representatives; Learning representatives; Equality representatives; Environment representatives
  • Rule 18.2 adds a new requirement to try to tackle under-representation of women and Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAEM) members: "The election of workplace representatives shall, where practicable, have a gender and ethnic balance at least reflecting the proportion of black, Asian and ethnic minority and female members which they represent."
Members should be notified in May 2012 that the elections will be taking place in June, and asked for nominations.  Note that where a new branch has been set up earlier this year and held its elections, those officers remain in place for the coming term of office rather than having to hold another election right away.

The process is complicated by the fact that the reorganisation of branches is still not yet complete, and many of us are still waiting to find out what branch we'll be in.  Where there are new branches, Regional Officers are expected to assist with arrangements and notification of members about the meetings and elections.

If you're in a workplace that hasn't had any reps till now, here are a few tips for organising a meeting:
  • Find out whether you're allowed to hold a meeting in the workplace, and if so whether it can be in work time or not
  • Book a suitable venue, date and time to make it as easy as possible for most people to attend
  • Can you get other issues of interest to members on the agenda, to encourage attendance?
  • Use several means (e.g. poster on a union noticeboard, leaflet, email, letter, text message, word of mouth) to notify members about the meeting (bearing in mind any rules on what you can do in your workplace).  If possible, give people plenty of notice and also a reminder near the time
  • Make sure candidates have a chance to say why they are standing, either by circulating a short election address or by speaking briefly at the meeting.
  • Get someone to chair the meeting.
  • Make sure members vote on whether to elect the reps, even if some positions aren't contested - this gives them more legitimacy and authority, and also gets members in the habit of taking their own decisions collectively
You can elect reps even in a workplace where the employer doesn't yet recognise the union.  The elections are a matter for the union and its members, not the employer.

Once you've got your new branch officers and reps elected, it's vitally important to inform the Regional Office ensure all the details are correctly recorded on the union's database.  The Regional Industrial Sector Conferences are planned for September, and the organisation of these will rely on the information on the union database.

It's important to be clear with the Regional Office as to whether you want the union to notify the employer who has been elected as reps.  The norm should be to do so, as this gives the reps extra protection against discrimination.  But there could be exceptional circumstances where the union is only just getting going and the employer is hostile where it could be better not to.

Friday 20 April 2012

Report from CSC redundancy protests

I've been sent the following pictures and report from the protests against Compulsory Redundancies at CSC on Thursday.



Unite members across the country working for IT services giant Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) took to the streets to voice their concerns over the company’s redundancy selection.

Despite the torrential rain, Unite members walked out at lunchtime to blow vuvuzelas and wave banners in defiance of the company's approach.  Supporters of the fight against redundancies from the Chesterfield Trades Council, the Labour Group of the Chesterfield Borough Council and the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre also came down to show their support.
In Chorley, over the same period members gathered at the front of the site holding placards protesting the redundancies currently taking place throughout the company, with some members providing real time updates and images via Twitter and Facebook.

Over at the Leeds site, Unite members also staged a protest outside the office, showing their objection to redundancy and solidarity with their colleagues demonstrating at other sites.

While at the Solihull site, angry employees braved the downpour to stage their protest, waving flags and being met with honks of support from passing traffic.

Unite national officer, Kevin O’Gallagher, said: “We will now increase pressure on CSC to listen to its staff and to Unite’s proposals. We have put forward a detailed plan which will avoid any compulsory redundancies in the company.

However, these plans have not stopped the company hurtling towards compulsory redundancies which are totally avoidable. Our members are now taking to the streets to get their voice heard. As a union, we will do everything in our power to support these workers though this very uncertain time.

Following several weeks of consultation over a reduction of staff working on the NHS account (Lorenzo contract), CSC is insistent on issuing compulsory redundancy notices despite receiving sufficient number or volunteer requests to leave the company, with a further 640 reductions announced across CSC UK and Irish sites this week.

Messages of support have been received from union members across the IT services industry, and CSC members vowed to continue their fight for fair treatment.

Tony Burke - Unite Assistant General Secretary said "our members can be assured that Unite is fully behind them and we will do all we can to ensure a successful outcome to the dispute we have with CSC.

UNITE Executive Council, March 2012

Other than posting the EC statement on the public sector pensions dispute, I haven't yet managed to get a report from the March EC meeting online.  In the meantime, Martin Mayer has managed to put a report on the United Left web site - well done Martin.

Jubilee ballot at BBC in reaction to 1% pay offer

According to the Guardian, the unions at the BBC (UNITE, Bectu and NUJ) have announced a strike ballot timed to allow action coinciding with the jubilee in response to the BBC going over the unions' heads with the announcement of a 1% pay offer - far below inflation.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

UNITE members at CSC to protest against redundancies

CSC's handling of job losses has been bad enough to drive its staff to take to the streets for the first time.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Pensions fight is reviving

Many people had been frustrated at the long delay after November 30th for further national action.  Government concessions had been minimal and few of those who struck on N30 had expected one day to be enough to win.  The government had seen the weak response as a green light to press on with cuts and privatisation, adding regional pay to the mix.

Now following the decision of Unite health to strike on 10 May the PCS union has decided to strike on the same day and others are expected to follow.

Everyone should show their support however they can.