Wednesday 28 November 2012

Short video explaining unions and what we've achieved

Well done to Jamie-Max Caldwell who has produced this short video for Unite into Schools explaining what unions are and what we've achieved.  It's easy for older union activists to take for granted that people understand what unions are and how they work - doing so can be a real barrier to organising young people.

Impressive Unite the Resistance conference

A couple of weeks ago I was part of a delegation to the national conference of Unite the Resistance, which attracted around 1000 debating how we build the fightback.

There's a report on the Unite the Resistance web site, videos here and here along with the statement agreed by conference.  Here's Gill George's speech on the attacks on our NHS and the fight-back against them:

Monday 19 November 2012

Free communication over the internet under threat?

The TUC's "Going To Work" web site is promoting a campaign to pressure governments attending the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) conference in Dubai this December to reject proposals for a new treaty that would restrict the freedom of internet users by giving governments and corporations the power to:

  • Restrict access to the internet to approved uses
  • Monitor everything you do online
  • Change the way we pay for the internet, potentially marginalising civil society and developing countries
The ITU is a United Nations (UN) Agency, and comprises both governments as members and big corporations.  Take a look at the list of corporate members of the ITU and if you work for a major IT or telecomms company there's a fair chance you'll see your own employer there.

As well as a number of free-speech and human rights groups, the International TUC is campaigning to prevent an alliance of governments such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, alongside big corporations, pushing through the new treaty.

What I find most disgraceful is the lack of publicity around a potential treaty with such implications.  Has there been any consultation with citizens or employees about what stance governments or corporations should take at the conference?  As in so much else, powerful people are trying to make important decisions far away from the public eye and with no accountability.

You can sign the online petition on the Going To Work web site, which also has further information.

In the video below Vint Cerf 'Father of the Internet', Paul Twomey Former Head of ICANN and Sharan Burrow General Secretary of the ITUC launch 'Stop The Net Grab' at the Foreign Press Association in London Monday 12 November 2012.

HP European Alliance

I posted back in August about HP workers terminating their European Works Council (EWC) agreement in response to the failure to consult properly over massive job cuts.

industriALL, a major union federation which covers IT & Communications, and to which UNITE is affiliated, has built on this by announcing an "HP European Alliance" to coordinate the work of unions, works councils and representatives from the European Works Council - to try to give employees a more effective voice.

It will be interesting to see how this initiative develops.  It's common practice for employers to try to play workers in different countries or different unions off against each other, or to try to create conflict between unions and works councils which are each trying to pursue the interests of employees in different ways.  Cultural, political, legal and organisational barriers often get in the way of the unity employees need to have an effective voice and it is good to see an attempt to overcome this.  Will it help deliver real action to challenge job losses or to curb management by dictat?

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Temporary and Agency Worker Resources

Many employers use (and abuse) agency workers - not just to cover short-term fluctuations in workload or to cover absences, but to provide a proportion of the workforce who can be more cheaply dismissed, who have fewer rights and, until recently, who could often be paid less.

The Agency Worker Regulations (AWR), which came into force last year, were intended to partially address this by giving temporary and agency workers some legal protection against unfair treatment.

But as with all legislation, it's not much help if there's no effective enforcement.  Whether a law works often comes down to whether individuals know their rights and whether they have the support of union organisation to advise and support them in asserting their rights.  And of course where there is good union organisation we should be treating the legislation as a bare minimum and seeking to negotiate standards which are considerably higher wherever possible.

There are now quite a few useful publications to help union members and reps take advantage of the AWR, including:

Monday 12 November 2012

Virgin Media union busting

The CWU and BECTU unions are reporting an initiative by Virgin Media to try to deny staff union recognition.

With no warning, the employer has used a company it has engaged, rather than anyone independent, to run a "ballot" of staff in its Access Division over the company's plan to derecognise the unions.  The company has sent staff material explaining its position, not including any material from the unions, and has included in the ballot people who aren't covered by union recognition anyway.

If any union ran an industrial action ballot like this the law would be down on us like a ton of bricks.

This kind of employer action brings back memories for me.  I first joined the union at work when my own employer tried to derecognise it.  Many others joined at the same time.  At the time the union in my workplace wasn't well organised and wasn't very effective for us, but we felt that we, not the company, should choose who represented us.  We understood that getting rid of the union was likely to be a precursor to worsening pay, terms and conditions.  Our campaign was successful in defending union recognition and the union today is a lot more active and effective than it was then.

I hope staff at Virgin Media are successful in defending their union recognition and come out of the campaign with their organisation reinvigorated.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Officer accountability

Executive Council (EC) members have now been sent a list of UNITE officers and which lay committees they are accountable to, in line with the new rule introduced at the 2011 Rules Conference, which gave the EC the power to:

14.8.5 Determine one or more constitutional committees of lay members to which
each officer employed by the Union shall report and be accountable and
ensure that the list of these allocation sis available to members.

I'll happily send the full list to UNITE members on request, but here are the ones for the IT & Comms sector Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs):

  1. East Midlands: Nigel Hadfield
  2. Ireland: G Scott (Northern Ireland), D Mahon (Republic of Ireland)
  3. London & Eastern: Mike Eatwell
  4. North East, Yorkshire & Humberside: Christian Ratcliffe
  5. North West: Phil Allman
  6. Scotland: Gillian McKay
  7. South East: Colin Rose
  8. South West: C Starling
  9. Wales: Bryan Apsley
  10. West Midlands: R Storry

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Glossary and Jargon Buster

I've created a new page on this site as a Glossary & Jargon Buster - I hope you find it useful.

You can help by commenting on that page with suggestions for words and acronyms I should add.  If you know the answers, you can help even more by suggesting explanations for them!

Monday 5 November 2012

Help for UNITE Branch Officers

I hear from lots of UNITE branch officers who are struggling to do their job under the new arrangements for branches - largely because of a lack of information.

The North-West region has produced a helpful branch officers' pack which includes:

  1. Branch finances
  2. Example rules and Standing Orders for branches
  3. Trades Council affiliations
  4. Accessing the branch secretaries' portal (or membership portal)
  5. Education
  6. Community membership
  7. Legal & affiliated services
  8. UNITE merchandise
  9. Applying for a UNITE email address
Most of the information would be equally applicable for branch officers in other regions.