Thursday 10 July 2014

J10 - coordinated strike day

Well done to all the members of UNITE, UNISON, GMB, NUT, PCS and FBU who struck nationally today, and to those who took part in local strikes, notably on the London underground.

I took a day's leave today to show my support.  The government and right-wing media like to sow divisions between private and public sector workers.  Public sector workers deliver services we all rely on, which will only deteriorate if pay, pensions and conditions are driven down.  It can't be right that people who look after children, sick people or old people get paid less than parasites in the city.  Worsening terms for public sector workers is part of making them more attractive for privatisation.  It's obvious that if the government gets away with cutting pay and conditions for public sector workers, employers in the private sector will be encouraged to turn the screw yet further.

I visited local authority pickets at two sites in Manchester, in Hurpurhey (where I saw a young worker join UNISON and the picketline rather than go in) and West Gorton, at a building I used to work in before the council took it over:

I then went to a PCS picket outside the courts, where a march set off to the main TUC rally.  Sadly, the TUC hadn't organised a march in Manchester, but lots of strikers joined in anyway:

The march joined the main rally in Piccadilly Gardens:

The big question everyone was talking about was - what next?  The FBU are escalating their action against plans to make them work to 60 or have their pension cut - they have called fifteen strikes over eight consecutive daysfrom 14-21 July.  The NUT and local authority unions are talking about more strikes in the autumn.  The TUC has called a national demonstration on 18 October.

Everyone I spoke to was clear on one thing.  They don't want to see any repeat of the loss of momentum after November 30th 2011 (N30), when some unions signed up to a rotten deal while others failed to call action and allowed the campaign to fizzle out.  People know that one day won't be enough to seriously shift this rotten government.  They want to see a serious "plan to win" - nobody wants to lose pay for a token gesture.

Labour did better this time.  Instead of attacking strikers, they sat on the fence.  But everyone knows that as the General Election approaches, union leaders tend to get more and more timid.

If the million+ who struck today want to win, they are going to need to try to do three things - build in, build out, build up.

Build in
Strikes are always uneven, and this was no exception.  The strikes mobilised huge numbers of workers.  They now need to be organised to strengthen organisation inside and between workplaces, to make sure that every worker is spoken to and future action is stronger.

Build out
Everyone got great strength and encouragement from taking action together today.  Activists in unions that didn't participate (e.g. NASUWT, UCU) need to campaign to come on board.  Activists in unions that were partly involved need to campaign to drawn in more sectors.  For example, many people (including health workers) were asking why health workers in UNITE and UNISON weren't out today, as they were on N30.  Why were PCS members out but UNITE members in MOD & Government Departments were not?  Can private sector workers coordinate their own campaigns with those in the public sector?  UNITE is particularly well placed to do this.

Build up
The government can withstand the a one-day strike every few months.  Some union leaders may be happy to keep action at this level, keeping issues simmering away in the hope that Labour will gain at the next election.  But this won't be enough to defend out public services or the pay and conditions of those who work in them.  That will take escalation.  Some union leaders are nervous about escalation, fearing that members won't support more action.  But members are far more likely to support action they believe can win, if they explain how they plan to win.  This won't happen if members just sit back and hope.  People need to get involved in the union in their workplaces and branches and campaign for it to happen, leaving union leaders in no doubt that the appetite is there and that action will be supported if called.

Friday 4 July 2014

UNITE Policy Conference 2014 - report (updated)

A good conference this week.

Impressively, UNITE has already posted the "progress of business" reports showing the decisions taken for Monday - Thursday on the policy conference page.

My own note of today's business was as follows:

  • C23 - withdrawn
  • K2 - remitted to EC
  • ES4 - passed, so C22, K1 and K10 fell
  • K9 passed
  • M21 passed
  • M22 passed
  • M24 passed
  • Emergency Motion on Esher - remitted to EC
  • Emergency Motion on Freedom Riders - passed
  • Emergency Motion on Gerry Conlon - passed
  • P17 - remitted to EC
  • P33 fell
  • P35 - remitted to EC
  • P40 passed
  • P42 passed
  • P8 fell
Unfortunately UNITE hasn't posted the final agenda or the texts of the Composites or Executive Statements online, so for anyone who wasn't a delegate it's pretty impossible to make sense of the results.  Hopefully this will be rectified soon.

As usual, there was consensus over much of the business of conference, but real debates on a few key issues.  For the first time many can remember, conference actually dealt with all the business, rather than motions falling off the end of the agenda due to lack of time.


Executive Statement 5 was passed, with about 10-20% of conference voting against because they wanted to support Composite 26 and/or motions L5 or L9 which were more critical of Labour.

ES5 backed Labour, while being critical - basically the same political strategy UNITE has been pursuing for some years.  It approved more funding to the Labour Party "The Executive Council will work with the Labour Party to ensure it is in a position to fight an effective election campaign in 2015, and is not overwhelmed by a tide of bankers' money supporting the Tories".  It included a commitment to "review Unite's political strategy in the light of the result of the General Election, and the prospects for the development of Labour policy in a progressive direction".

Composite 26 called for a debate throughout the union on the crisis of working class representation, something Len McCluskey was keen to avoid this side of a General Election.

Motion L5 (which I moved) called for parts of the political fund to be spent directly campaigning for UNITE's policies while Labour failed to do so, reducing our affiliation each time Labour disciplines UNITE councillors for opposing cuts, and greater transparency in the political fund.

Motion L9 talked about the poor support from Labour MPs over asbestos related diseases and said that until the lack of representation for working people was addressed, our political fund should be directed to fight for those who do represent us.

The EC backed motion L12, which was passed by conference, which marks a significant shift left in union policy.  UNITE publicly supports councillors who vote against cuts and "encourages other councillors who might consider voting against cuts to do so".  UNITE will also establish a dialogue with Councillors Against the Cuts to determine the scope for joint campaigning.

Global Solidarity

Conference heard a moving speech from Aidee Moreno from the Columbian union FENSUAGRO, which has seen over 1000 members murdered.  Aidee herself has lost family members.  There was a video from Huber Ballesteros of the Columbian TUC who has been imprisoned since August last year.

Conference passed very strong policy in support of the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli government's apartheid state in the shape of Composite C11 and motion F11.  Motion F12 which sought engagement with the Israeli Histadrut was not passed.  The action points from the two motions passed were:
  • Raise awareness, build support, campaign and lobby for a free and independent Palestine;
  • Highlight the suffering, and support the Palestinian population in Gaza living under siege; Palestinians living in the West Bank who are seeing their land illegally seized by Israeli settlements and are forced to navigate checkpoints to go to work, school and hospital; and in Israel, where they are treated as second class citizens and subject to racist laws;
  • Work with other NGOs and all other supportive bodies in the UK and around the world and develop a UNITE campaigning and leverage strategy around BDS [Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions] within the next 12 months.  Notably against complicit companies involved in the occupation, the apartheid wall and the illegal settlements (such as Veolia, G4S and Sainsbury's) through workforce pressure, contracts and pension funds; and encourage members to call  on supermarkets and retailers to stop using companies which export goods from illegal settments;
  • Continue to support and offer practical help to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and encourage all branches to affiliate to PSC.  Encourage branches and regions to send representatives on delegations to Palestine, to further strengthen the solidarity with Palestinian workers;
  • Organise and facilitate with other union bodies and campaigning groups, a national speaking tour to include lawyers and child prisoners/families in the next 12 months;
  • Raise the issue and table motions for support of the BDS campaign in the European and Global Federations;
  • Organise and facilitate national or regional delegations to be sent to Palestine at least twice a year;
  • Establish the issue as a standing item on the agenda of the EC and all other constitutional committees;
  • Deliver a full report to the 2016 policy conference on the activities of the union.
  • Utilise all Unite the Union campaign resources in conjunction with Palestine Solidarity Campaign to bring the plight of the Yarmouk Refugee Camp to members and the wider Labour movement
  • To lobby MPs and government offices to campaign for the protection of humanitarian aid agencies and access to the Yarmouk Refugee Camp.
  • To demand the UN enforces its commitment to Resolution 194 which asserts the rights of Palestinians to return to their land.
Motion F3 on solidarity with the Egyptian revolution, currently facing massive repression, was remitted to the EC on the basis of a commitment to discuss each point in it at the next EC meeting and report back.  The motion was calling for various solidarity actions including working with the MENA Solidarity Network.

Conference passed an emergency motion on Latin America, supporting the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and Friends of Ecuador.  It passed an emergency motion opposing military intervention in Iraq.

Climate Change and Fracking

Conference passed Composite C7 "Climate Emergency - Green Jobs Now!" which backed the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, the 1 Million Climate Jobs pamphlet, work with the ITUC and promoting the Carbon Cuts not Job Cuts protest on 6th December in London.

Conference passed motion D7 on Global Warming included a number of important policy positions, crucially including campaigning for a move to "sustainable renewable energy and a reduction of fossil fuel use".

One of the biggest debates of the week was on fracking, where the EC sought to overturn UNITE's existing policy against fracking with ES2 - which didn't even mention climate change.  Conference comfortably overturned the EC on this, passing Composite 6 instead, which strengthened UNITE's policy against fracking, and resolving to:
  • make all members aware of the dangers of fracking
  • actively oppose fracking, to use its influence to prevent fracking operations, advise members not to work on fracking sites nor deliver materials to such operations
  • support and lobby for a moratorium on all "fracking" activities across the United Kingdom
  • encourage the Labour Party and Labour controlled councils to take actions formally opposing the application of hydraulic fracturing technology within the United Kingdom
  • request Unite Regional Committees support local anti-fracking groups' activities, including help with funding
  • encourage members at all levels of the union to support campaigns against "fracking" and to link up with local campaigners
  • support calls for taking profit out of energy production and distribution and favour the public ownership and democratic control of the energy industry with the direct input of local communities and trade unions in decisions on creating a balanced and sustainable energy policy
Conference made clear that opposition to fracking does not mean UNITE will not seek to organise workers in the industry, just as we organise workers in many other industries where employers behave unethically.

Anti-migrant racism

Conference took a strong stance against anti-migrant racism, being whipped up by UKIP, the media and mainstream politicians.  Motions E1 & E2 were passed and members are encouraged to join the demonstration at the UKIP conference in Doncaster on 27th September.


Conference showed solidarity with the members at Grangemouth, still facing great difficulties from Ineos and its rogue boss Jim Ratcliffe.  Delegates were particularly appalled at the treatment of Mark Lyon and Stevie Dean, who had lost their jobs after a witch-hunt by Ineos, the Tories, Labour politicans and the media.  Stevie's daughter Ailis addressed the conference and was given a standing ovation.

Subscription Rates - low pay

In response to Composite 43 the EC had put forward statement ES6 describing a working party to consider the practicalities of reduced subscription rates for low paid workers.

Composite 43 was much stronger, calling on the EC to "adopt a subscription policy based on salary levels" and to "bring in variable subscriptions at the same rate as current part-time workers" before 2015.  Conference overturned the EC to back the Composite.


Conference adopted Executive Statement 3 which was pro-EU but called for Labour to promise a referendum on the basis that "this issue can never be resolved except on the basis of a clear democratic mandate".  Most of the speakers called who opposed ES3 were supporting F4 (pro-EU, anti-referendum) though there was also a Composite 10 that opposed the EU from a left perspective.

Ricky Tomlinson

Ricky gave an extremely powerful speech about the campaign for justice for the Shrewsbury 24

Five months after the successful 1972 building strike ended 24 pickets were picked up and charged with over 200 offences, including unlawful assembly, intimidation and affray. Six of the pickets were also charged with conspiracy to intimidate. None of the pickets had been cautioned or arrested during the strike. Approximately 70 police had accompanied the pickets on the Shrewsbury building sites at all times. No complaints were laid against the pickets at the time.

Des Warren, Eric (Ricky) Tomlinson and John McKinsie Jones were sent to jail.  Ricky described the sentence and treatment of Des Warren as a death sentence and claimed that the conspirpacy against these innocent men went right to the top - Ted Heath.

The current government is still refusing to release the papers about the case on grounds of "national security", reinforcing the view that this was a conspiracy to undermine trade unionism. Len McCluskey reported that Labour had pledged to release all the papers if elected to government.

Defend Our NHS

The debates around the NHS were a real highlight of the conference.

Conference adopted Executive Statement ES1 on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade treaty that threatens to force governments to privatise and deregulate and even allow companies to sue governments that take decisions not in their financial interests.  The statement concludes "adopt a clear position of outright opposition to TIIP; Unite will now join with other civil society organisations in mobilising to fully oppose TTIP".

This video from 38 degrees explains some of the issue around TTIP:

Conference passed an emergency motion in support of UNITE medical scientists and pathologists in Northampton - NHS workers who have been locked out by their employer!  Three of the workers visited conference and were given a great welcome.

This press release gives some information about their campaign.  Messages of support can be sent via Mike Orpin, Unite the Union, Transport House, 5 Saxon Court, St Peters Gardens, marefair, Northampton, NN1 1SX or emailed to Terry Lodge.

Conference also backed the campaign over NHS pay.  The Secretary of State for Health in England has refused to accept even the miserly recommendation of the NHS Pay Review Body (1%).  Cuts to the pay and conditions of NHS staff are bound to have a knock-on effect on the quality and safety of patient services.  An Emergency Motion called for UNITE to "escalate and intensify campaigning and support for industrial action in our fight for a fair pay award for all NHS workers and in the defence of quality patient services".

UNITE's head of organising and leverage, Sharon Graham, gave a fantastic presentation about the plans for the campaign for the repeal of the Health & Social Care Act, which is seeing our NHS fragmented and sold off at a frightening rate.  UNITE has researched the links between many of the key decision makers in the destruction of the NHS and their corrupt links to private healthcare interests.  Details of the plans are confidential so that they can be used with maximum impact. 

Given the media blackout against those campaigning to defend the NHS (while they promote a steady stream of anti-NHS stories), the intention is to support key local campaigns so that they can break through the wall of silence.  UNITE is supporting the People's NHS web site which is carrying details of some key campaigns against cuts and privatisation.

The campaign will not be politically aligned, though clearly Labour hope to benefit from it now Andy Burnham has promised to repeal the Health & Social Care Act.  Labour figures who have their snouts in the privatisation trough will not be immune from the campaign.  Conference was highly critical of Andy Burnham's comment that the public NHS should be the "preferred bidder".  UNITE doesn't want bidding at all.  The stronger the campaign the more pressure there will be on all parties to shift their position.

It was made very clear that the campaign is not just for members in health.  The NHS belongs to all of us and the campaign to defend it is everyone's responsibility.  The level of commitment to the campaign was made clear when Tony Woodhouse, UNITE's chair, said he was prepared to go to jail if that was what it took to defend the NHS.

July 10th Strikes

During conference the news came through that UNITE's members working for local authorities had voted to strike over pay, and will be joining the coordinated strikes on Thursday (J10) alongside members of UNISON, GMB, NUT, PCS, FBU.  This will be the biggest day of strike action since November 30th 2011.

All members are encouraged to visit picket lines and join marches and rallies to show their support.  If public sector workers see their pay cut further in real terms, private sector employers will be more confident to follow suit.  Cuts to public sector pay make it hard to recruit and retain skilled staff.  Many speakers highlighted the disgrace that some of the most socially important jobs, such as looking after old people, are paid below the Living Wage.

J10 is also an opportunity for activists to make links between workplaces, industries and unions which will help us with every other campaign (including defending the NHS) and will help press to ensure that effective action follows after J10 rather than it being an ineffective one-off.


The last EC meeting I attended before I stood down decided not to go ahead with a proposal to sell the Esher Place training centre.  It appears this may still be an option.  An Emergency Motion opposing the sale was remitted to the EC on the basis of three commitments from the General Secretary:
  1. Educational facilities will not be diminished
  2. Before any decision there will be full transparency on costs
  3. Before any EC decision, all EC members will discuss it with the constituents

Other points of sectoral interest

Conference passed motion H1 on Social Media Policies in the workplace, which called for education for reps on safe use of social media, campaigning for freedom of speech and restriction of surveillance, and control over employer policies which breach employees human rights.

Conference passed motion P42 from the GPM&IT South East RISC on Industrial Representation and Accountability.  This included "Regions must take into account, as per rule 7.2, industrial servicing to the membership on the basis of sectors and within reason allocate work to regional industrial officers on the basis of industrial sector as well as geographical areas, but in any event, any industrial officer must have a responsibility to give written industrial reports to the appropriate Regional Industrial Sector Committee".  There have been strong feelings from our sector, and others, that this has not been happening in all regions, meaning officers struggling due to lack of sectoral knowledge and RISCs struggling due to lack of reports.

Executive Statement 7, which was passed, committed to put legal training in place for officers and activists, to ensure each branch has an allocated solicitor practice, and to promote the working relationship between the union solicitor; the officer and the representatives.  UNITE legal director Howard Beckett reported to conference that all branches now have a solicitor allocated.  I'm sure mine isn't the only branch this will come as a pleasant surprise to - it has been promised for years.  I presume branches should contact their Regional Legal & Affiliate Services coordinator to find out who their solicitor is.  UNITE recovers over £100m in compensation for members each year - and members get the full compensation, unlike through other sources of legal representation.

Len McCluskey indicated that PCS is unlikely to join UNITE in the near future following the decision at their conference.

SOC Election

Conference elected the Standing Orders Committee for 2016:
  • East Midlands: Raffiq Moosa
  • Ireland: Frances Hourihane
  • London & Eastern: Jeff Hodge
  • North East, Yorks & Humber: Stan Sims
  • North West: Dave Rochester
  • Scotland: Ray Stewart
  • South East: Sam Webster-Moore
  • South West: Joe Conway
  • Wales: Julie Evans
  • West Midlands: Barry Hartshorn
Pete Gillard, who has been chair of SOC for the last three conferences, is retiring and was thanked by conference.