Friday 28 June 2013

People's Assembly

Last weekend I joined thousands of other activists at the People's Assembly in London.

The huge turnout will have boosted the confidence of attendees to go out and build local assemblies round the country.  Everyone should get involved in this and try to ensure they get really active.

While the declaration agreed wasn't quite as practical as it could have been, it does identify some key dates that people can organise around.

A highlight for me was the tremendous speech by UNITE health activist Gill George, pulling no punches against the Tories or anyone who stands in the way of a successful fight against them.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

National demo to defend the NHS, 29th September

The Tories and their Lib-Dem props are ripping the NHS to shreds with cuts, reorganisation and privatisation - actions that were in no manifesto and nobody voted for.  Many of those who backed the changes in parliament have links to private healthcare that wants to profit from ill health.

It's a crime that there was no national demo when the Health & Social Care Bill was going through parliament, but the huge local protests around the country show that people are prepared to come out and defend the NHS.

Now UNITE, along with UNISON and GMB are building a national protest to Save the NHS on 29th September in Manchester, when the Tories are holding their conference.

Everyone should be there.  The UNITE web site now has a page where you can sign-up to pledge to join the march on 29th September.  UNITE should be organising trains and coaches from round the country - there is no time to lose.

If you're in a well-organised workplace you should be building a large delegation for the march.  If you're in a less organised workplace, what better opportunity to get people involved - many non-members will support this campaign too.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Future of the IT & Comms industry in UNITE - consultation

In my report from the Executive Council meeting last week, I highlighted the proposals from the administration for reorganisation of several UNITE industrial sectors, including IT & Communications.

There have already been some discussions amongst activists in the sector by phone, email and at Regional Industrial Sector Committee (RISC) meetings.  In the light of those, some of us have pulled together an initial draft for a response to the consultation.  Discussions are ongoing but it will be important to have a response that has broad support in the sector by the time our National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC) meets on Tuesday 9th July.  Following responses from the sectors, the Executive Council will take the decision at its September meeting.

In the meantime, I'd welcome comments and discussion on the draft response below.  There are various versions around, so I will try to keep the version here up to date as the discussion continues.

The Consultation

The June 2013 UNITE Executive Council meeting approved a document on sector reorganisation to go out to the affected sectors for consultation.

In relation to the IT & Comms sector, the proposal was:

“That the Electrical Engineering & Electronics, the IT & Communications and the Servicing and General Industries national industrial sectors be combined in one new sector: General Engineering, Manufacturing and Servicing (GEMS). It is proposed that a small section of the IT & Communications membership working in broadcasting be transferred to the Graphical, Paper & Media sector instead”

The main purpose of sectors is to deal with industrial business.  They are also one of the dimensions of the UNITE constitutional structure with its various committees and conferences.  Each sector has a Regional Industrial Sector Committee (RISC) in each region, a National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC), a national sector conference, delegates to Regional Committees, policy and rules conferences, and at least one seat on the Executive Council.

The industry and the opportunity

The IT & Communications industry employs hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.  Public and private sector organisations increasingly rely on IT & Comms companies to provide and support vital infrastructure and services without which they could not operate.  These companies now hold a position in the economy almost as pivotal as energy supply.  Without them, the country would stop.

It is strategically important for UNITE to place itself at the centre of unionising the IT & Communications industry if the union is to grow and retain power in strategic parts of the economy.

Commoditisation of products, services and skills is accelerating downward pressure on pay, terms and conditions in the industry.  Workers in IT & Comms urgently need union organisation.

There is very little IT & Comms manufacturing left in the UK.  The vast majority of employment is in software and services, with the majority of our membership in the IT Services subsector.

A few years ago, the IT industry had the fastest membership growth in the union.  A lack of focus and strategy has seen this growth tail off.  We have the opportunity to reverse this with a reorganisation of the sector.

The problems

The IT & Comms industry is at an early stage of unionisation.  In developing effective structures, there is always a balance between being representative and being inclusive.  A stable, established and well unionised industry will prioritise ensuring the “right” people are on the various committees.  When the Organising Department is putting together a combine for a sectoral campaign, it tries to include as many activists as possible to help build up the union.  The priority for UNITE in IT & Comms is building up the activist base to build the union and we need structures that enable this, recognising that the numbers of reps are not great in all regions and many reps, particularly those still working towards securing union recognition, have difficulties securing release from work.

In most regions, responsibility for the IT & Comms membership is spread across a number of Regional Officers, each of whom has IT & Comms as only a small part of their allocation.  This makes it more difficult for any officer to focus on the sector or to build links between IT & Comms activists.  It also makes it more difficult for RISCs to get reports from the workplaces they cover.

A large proportion of the membership in the IT & Comms sector is employed by a small number of companies with membership in each spread across multiple regions.  The nature of the industry means that employers rarely organise on a geographical basis, with many industrial issues affecting members in multiple UNITE regions.  This doesn’t fit easily with UNITE Regional Officer allocation, and can lead to officers in different regions duplicating work or presenting a disconnected face to the employer.  Nor is it realistic to expect National Officers to pick up every multi-region issue.

Organisations across the public and private sector outsource work to IT & Communication companies, but UNITE membership records are not always updated promptly to show the new employer and members are not always reallocated to the IT & Comms sector.  This acts as a barrier to organising in the sector and means that membership figures understate reality.  The December 2012 EC meeting agreed motion 9 to address this, but the NISC has not yet received any progress update.

The December 2012 Executive Council approved motion 11 to allow more flexibility with the days and times of meetings, and to allow video or voice conferences to be used as a last resort.  As far as we are aware, little effort has yet been made to see how much this can help make the sector work properly.

An alternative proposal

Whatever sector IT & Communications members are placed in, there are 4 priorities:

  1. Ensuring that activists from IT & Communications can meet regularly at national level to deal with industrial and organising business
  2. Ensuring efficient officer allocation so that reps have effective support without duplicating work
  3. Ensuring that IT & Comms activists are not excluded from sectoral structures
  4. Ensuring that UNITE maintains a profile as the lead union in the IT & Communications industry by including IT & Comms in the new sector name

In line with rule 7.10.1, there should be a national Advisory Committee for the IT & Comms industry, open to reps in the industry, and which should meet four times a year.  This would have no constitutional status, other than being able to submit motions to the NISC, but will allow the industrial and organising business of the industry to be dealt with properly, in a way which it could not in the RISCs and NISCs of a wider sector.  This would retain some of the benefit of the one part of the existing ITC structure that functions reasonably well, the NISC, which brings together key reps from companies in the industry.

Central to reviving efforts to unionise the IT & Communications industry has to be a more rational approach to officer allocation.  Unless there are specific reasons why it is impractical:

  • Each region should have one or two officers whose allocation includes most of the region’s IT & Comms membership.
  • For each company with significant UNITE membership in IT & Comms in more than one region, one Regional Officer will be made the “lead” for that company for multi-region issues, allowing them to build up knowledge and relationships with the reps, the company and other officers dealing with the company.

Participation within a larger sector should give ITC activists access to a functioning RISC.  ITC should form a constituency within the various sector structures to ensure issues specific to ITC are not lost in the wider sector.

The IT & Communications sector should be merged into the Graphical, Paper & Media sector to form the Graphical, Paper, Media, IT & Communications (GPMITC) sector.  While nothing is ideal, GPM is a better fit than SGI because it already contains significant membership in publishing which is increasingly electronic and/or online.  It is important that the sector name contains ITC to maintain our profile when other unions are also trying to organise in the sector, including CWU, Connect and PCS.

Monday 17 June 2013

Report from UNITE Executive Council, June 2013

Ian Allinson's report from the UNITE Executive Council meeting, June 2013
N.B. This is not an official Unite Report; it is based on my notes of the Executive Council (EC) meeting. I believe it to be a fair account of some of the key points and decisions taken (where I give my views about them I make this clear), and I will willingly correct any errors upon receipt of official notification from Unite.  This was a four day meeting, so the report below can only be key points.

Ian Allinson
UNITE EC member, IT & Communications

Industrial & Political
  1. The UNITE response to the TUC on the practicalities of a General Strike had been sent to all Regional Secretaries and every committee should be discussing it.
  2. UNITE is encouraging members to take part in the People's Assembly on 22nd June and the People United tour that follows it.
  3. At the March EC there had been discussion of a request from the Health NISC for a national demo on the 65th anniversary of the NHS, which was passed to the executive officers.  This is now not happening.  Instead there will be activities around the country on 5th July, including the end of People's United tour at the Trafford General Hospital.  UNITE is mobilising for a national demonstration in defence of the NHS at the Tory conference in Manchester on Sunday 29th September.  We were told that Dave Prentis from UNISON is also backing this.  Every sector should be building for this, and every region laying on transport.
  4. The 86% yes vote in the political fund ballot was universally welcomed, but my suggestion that we should start spending it in the way UNITE had told members we did wasn't.
  5. Regional Secretaries are responsible for ensuring there is a visible UNITE presence at key demonstrations and events in their region, such as May Day and Workers Memorial Day.
  6. The rise in the UKIP vote is a concern, but in most areas this represents a reorganisation of the right wing vote rather than a shift to the right.  Rather than trying to chase after them, we should challenge racism.  Mobilisations against the EDL & BNP trying to capitalise on the murder of Lee Rigby had generally been successful, though many people are feeling intimidated and need solidarity.  Most of the Executive signed the UAF statement over this.  There will be a national demonstration in Liverpool on 12th October.
  7. Councillor Kingsley Abrams continues to be suspended from the Labour Group despite reluctantly agreeing to vote for cuts.  Kevin Bennett in Warrington is suspended but is appealing.  Several of us argued that UNITE should affiliate to Councillors Against Cuts.  This meeting the excuse had changed from some nonsense about their policy on Trident to the bizarre claim that there was discussion about Councillors Against Cuts merging with TUSC!  [For an explanation of the issues, see here].  Len said he wanted to avoid that kind of open declaration and allow the situation to unfold.  A remit calling for an investigation into Warrington CLP Labour Group was agreed.
  8. There was a lot of anger about Ed Balls speech on benefits and his promise to use Tory spending plans, Milliband's failure to pledge to repeal the bedroom tax and the lack of a robust public response from UNITE.
  9. Steve Hart has been replaced as Political Director by Jenny Formby.  Steve will deal with CLASS and our anti-fascist work.
  10. There was considerable discussion about the attempt to get more members to support and get involved with Labour and to influence candidate selection.
  11. There was a lot of discussion about the campaign against blacklisting.  It was good to see the BBC finally picking up the issue on Panorama.  Pensioner George Tapp had deliberately been badly injured by a car on a protest - the solicitors are involved and UNITE is pressing the police to prosecute.  If they don't a private prosecution may be possible.  UNITE's organising & leverage department is currently focussed on the Crossrail project following the dismissal of Frank Morris and more than 20 other workers.  This is already producing movement from some employers, but there is a lot more to be done.  A remit from the north-west about the "otherwise agreement" against Steve Acheson was left on the table pending comments from Steve on notes and evidence sent to him by Gail Cartmail.
  12. During the EC, members visited picket lines at Equinox Care and a protest demanding union recognition at the London Gateway port.
  13. In the IT & Comms sector, members at CSC are facing further redundancies.  A remit for organising in Fujitsu was agreed.
  14. Difficulties with USDAW and Community unions continue.
  1. Guidance will be circulated on the Children and Families Bill, improving parental leave, which is unfinished business from the previous government and with the current government has not entirely scrapped.
  2. A remit was agreed backing INQUEST, campaigning over deaths in custody, which are disproportionately of black people.
Strategy for Growth
  1. Talks on a transfer of engagements of the TSSA into UNITE are proceeding and the Executive Council was given copies of the Heads of Agreement.  The majority of TSSA members would be in a new rail sector in UNITE.  The aim is to bring definite proposals to the September EC for a decision.
  2. PCS conference had passed a resolution allowing their leadership to discuss merger or transfer into UNITE.  Len reported that there had been no communications since then, but that he was due to meet Mark Serwotka next week and would keep the EC advised.
Internal & Administration
  1. It was agreed to send a proposal for reorganising the sectors, which would include splitting the IT & Comms sector between the GPM and SGI sectors, out to affected sectors for consultation.  In line with comments received from NISC members, I opposed this.  [I would welcome activists in the sector getting in touch to discuss how we should respond to the consultation].  The response to the consultation is required for the September EC meeting.  Len said that a similar exercise would be required for Area Activist Committees.
  2. I raised the fact that some branch reorganisations appeared to have gone ahead without coming to the EC.  Andrew Murray confirmed that they should have come to the EC and he will check with Regional Secretaries.
  3. One person per region has now been appointed to deal with member complaints.  This is in addition to the national guidelines produced a couple of years ago.
  4. The September EC will decide on whether members paying reduced subs (Retired Member Plus, Community Members) should be eligible to vote in the Executive Council elections.
  5. The web site and membership forms need updating to reflect the fact that reduced subs for part-time workers apply to those working 21 hours or less a week.
  6. A proposal for changes in the running and staffing of the Eastbourne Centre which had been recommended by the staff reps was agreed.
  7. The target for the new Birmingham office a training centre to open, if all goes to plan, would be 1 May 2015.
  8. An existing UNITE Defined Contribution scheme is being expanded to be available for more members.  The main advantages are a larger scale than many employers can achieve and being run not for profit.
  9. It was agreed to seek a new Assistant General Secretary (AGS) to cover political, international and policy work, to fill the vacancies for National Officers in Passenger Services, RTCLRD and Health, and to advertise the post of North West Regional Secretary.  No decision was taken on replacing Tony Woodley as Executive Officer.
  10. The EC was given a list of approved severance applications and "known leavers", with the aim of implementing the "no more golden goodbyes" motion passed at the 2012 policy conference against the EC recommendation.  A number of EC members weren't satisfied that this went far enough.  A copy of the template Compromise Agreement was circulated, along with a copy of the standard terms.  No voluntary severance payments over and above the standard terms will be paid without EC permission.  It was agreed that the EC should receive a list of all those who left with any payment, whether this was "severance" or something else.  A subcommittee of 5 was elected to oversee payments to leavers.
  11. A document was agreed clarifying who can apply for which officer positions and the process for appointing "stand-down officers" (reps who temporarily act as officers) was agreed, but it was accepted that more action is required to ensure we get more women and BAEM candidates.  Andrew Murray said that now (or soon) there would be no stand-down officers who had been in place for over 12 months.
  12. A remit from the IT & Comms NISC asking the EC to reconsider the exclusion of an activist under rule 6 was defeated, with the advice that he can appeal to a panel but to succeed it is likely that the guidelines would need to be revised.
  13. Following discussion at the North-West shop stewards seminar, Andrew Murray will ring round the Regional Secretaries to see if there are communication problems with activists in other regions.
  14. A report from the Election Commissioner into the recent General Secretary election was presented for information.  I proposed that the EC should refer the second complaint to the Election Commissioner but was told that it was too late for the EC to do this.
Legal & Affiliate Services & Membership
  1. The qualifying period for legal representation on employment matters has been cut to 4 weeks, but it will still be the policy that pre-existing issues are not covered.
  2. UNITE's legal department recovered £26m for members in the last quarter.
  3. UNITE's victory in the courts in the Waterford Crystal pensions case is of huge significance in the Republic of Ireland.
  4. New membership cards will be issued this summer, and this will be used as an opportunity to promote the member get member scheme.  Work is also ongoing on new membership forms.
  5. There's a lot of activity on contacting lapsed members, which has a good success rate in retention.
  1. There was an encouraging update about the Miami 5 campaign
  2. Contrary to some reports, the existing International Committee will oversee our solidarity work with Palestine.  People who have participated in delegations and other activities will be involved.
  3. There was some debate about the Marikana massacre.  UNITE had received a delegation from the NUM and the report gave their account of the situation.  A delegation will be sent to hear both sides of the story.

Monday 3 June 2013

London & Eastern Executive Council by-election

Due to yet another Executive Council member (EC) taking an appointed position as a UNITE officer part way through his term of office, there's a vacancy for one of the London & Eastern regional seats on the EC.

Branches and workplaces in the London & Eastern region can hold nomination meetings up until 28th June.  Make sure you follow the rules for nomination meetings, which are available on via the UNITE web site which has all the details about the election.

Ian Bradley is one of the rank and file electricians who led the successful campaign to defend their national agreement against BESNA - a plan by some of the major companies to cut pay by up to 35%.  He's produced a letter seeking nominations.

Please give Ian your support.  His details are:

  • Name: Ian Bradley
  • Branch: London and Eastern Construction LE/0555
  • Membership number: 20034585