Saturday 21 November 2015

UNITE GPM&IT National Industrial Sector Committee meeting November 2015

The Graphical, Paper, Media & IT NISC met on 12-13 November, and this is a report of some points of potential interest. It doesn't include the (important) reports on what's going on in various employers and sub-sectors, as the NISC regards these as too sensitive for publication.

Steve Garroway from the north-west was elected as chair of the NISC and Linda Pollock from Scotland as vice-chair.


  1. The idea was floated of branches in the sector clubbing together to fund the employment of an organiser who could work on projects the NISC prioritised.
  2. UNITE membership in the GPM part of the sector continues to decline due to job losses, though these seem to have slowed. There are opportunities to spread organisation into new workplaces, including within companies already organised.
  3. RISCs should discuss the survey on agency workers and encourage reps to complete and return it.
  4. The new NISC elected its organising strategy subcommittee - Steve & Linda as chair and vice-chair, plus Ian Allinson, Gareth Lowe and Phil Hood.

Trade Union Bill

  1. Deputy General Secretary Steve Turner gave a presentation about the Trade Union Bill, which comes on top of the gagging act
  2. Public opinion, despite being against some particular strikes, is strongly in favour of the right to strike and against the use of agency labour to break strikes.
  3. He highlighted the connection between the proposed removal of the ban on agencies providing scabs during disputes and the Tories benefit sanctions. There is a worry that unemployed people would be told to take agency work to scab or lose their benefits. What would be the impact on social cohesion if agencies brought in labour from abroad to break a strike?
  4. He pointed out that many of the attacks on the rights of public sector workers could also apply to private sector workers where services had been privatised, outsourced or were supported by public funds.
  5. The government has dropped plans to include in the bill a requirement on unions to publish a detailed "dispute plan" including the use of social media. However, it is likely this will reappear in a new code of practice on picketing.
  6. While opposing the bill altogether, Steve's view was that the Tory majority would force it through, and UNITE had therefore been focussing on trying to get amendments, particularly in relation to the ballot process. He said that Vince Cable had previously agreed to allow workplace or online balloting, but the new government did not support this. CAC statutory recognition ballots are workplace ballots, and not one has resulted in a complaint.
  7. At some point UNITE will fall foul of the new legislation and be forced outside the law. This could be in relation to the ballot thresholds, where a majority voted to strike but it didn't count - UNITE would be forced to decide whether to call the strike anyway. Or a picket supervisor might refuse to carry a letter or wear an armband, which could lead to a £25K find for UNITE. Refusal to pay could be treated as contempt of court, as with the miners in the 1980s.
  8. There is lots of opposition to the bill, ranging from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD, the professional body for HR) and the FT to the Police Federation. Devolved governments and councils are saying they won't implement it.
  9. Letters and petitions will not be enough. In the 1970s it had taken action and civil disobedience to defeat the Industrial Relations Act. While the bill is still being debated, Steve urged people to continue lobbying MPs. Some Tories are very unhappy about aspects of it.
  10. Lots of materials are available for workplaces, which can be printed off or obtained from Regional Political Officers. Activists are encouraged to organise meetings, invite speakers etc.
Globalisation and digitalisation:
  1. Regional Officer Mike Eatwell talked through a presentation created by a Swedish colleague
  2. Mike argued that the potential impact of automation was growing past routine jobs and also into white collar jobs. A 2013 Oxford study of the US and a 2014 one on France suggested nearly half of current jobs are at risk of automation. Even if this is grossly exaggerated, the impact is still significant. Mike recommended a book called "The Second Machine Age".
  3. Mike also talked about other major trends. Population growth is expected to slow. Developed economies will need more migrants to sustain their economies. Technical developments such as cheaper and faster data processing; cloud; big data; artificial intelligence; mobile computing; individual crowd working (e.g. Uber); the Internet of Things and 3D printing would also mean large numbers of current jobs being destroyed and others created - potentially with bad terms and conditions.
  4. New technology displacing workers is nothing new. From the Luddites onwards the debates have always been about who will benefit. Will we win a shorter working week and better pay? Or will some work ever harder while others suffer unemployment? Capitalism encourages a short-term view where only shareholders' interests count.
  5. Big changes in employment patterns require big changes for unions too. IT work can't be stockpiled, so IT workers have a lot of potential power.
Health & Safety
  1. Bud Hudspith discussed his comprehensive written report.
  2. Leaflets are available for UNITE's campaign "Say no to unsafe jobs" and Bud had been pleased at a number of employers supporting the approach.
  3. The government had planned to exclude self-employed people from Health & Safety legislation, but they have retreated and watered this down to the point where it will make little difference in practice.
  4. Bud wants input for a review of the Unite Health & Safety Guide.
  5. UNITE is pushing for more female Health & Safety reps. Anyone interested is encouraged to contact Siobhan Endean.
  6. Occupational stress is the most common issue, and UNITE will be ramping up its work on this. Bud highlighted the materials available from the HSE. Surveys are useful, but they need to lead to action.
  7. It was agreed at a policy conference that regions should hold meetings for H&S reps, but many had stopped happening. More are being revived now. If your region isn't doing this, suggest it to the Regional Committee.
  8. Bud reported that where Area Activist Committees are having open meetings on H&S, they are getting very good attendances - he'd been at one with 300 activists the other day.
  1. Though it wasn't on the agenda, UNITE's attitude to "partnership" ran through many of the discussions (including industrial ones which I can't include here). This section of my report is comment about some of the ways partnership came up.
  2. UNITE's leadership had persuaded the delegation at the TUC congress to support motion 3 at the TUC congress, which was a pro-partnership motion from Community, amended by the FDA. In my opinion the employment relationship is inherently unequal, so the concept of partnership is both flawed and dangerous. It runs against the organising approach UNITE espouses. UNITE did express serious reservations in the debate at congress, but the support for the motion shows weakness and confusion.
  3. There was a heated discussion about UNITE's position on Trident (which is discussed here). Many of the arguments from those who supported Len McCluskey's position at the Labour conference (Trident jobs come first so keep Trident) rather than the position of the UNITE delegation at Scottish Labour's conference (scrap Trident and diversify to protect jobs) really hinged on a partnership outlook. At the heart of this is the assumption that the way you protect your jobs is to support the interests of your employer. This view would have prevented Lancashire cotton workers opposing slavery during the American civil war, or support for sanctions against apartheid South Africa. It gives ground to "There Is No Alternative" to whatever our boss plans - either we accept the jobs they offer or we have none. The contrast with Jeremy Corbyn's commitment to a Defence Diversification Agency (DDA) could not be starker, being based on the idea that we can find a better use for £167bn which would create many more good jobs.
  1. NISC meetings in 2016 are 21-22 January, 18-19 April, 30 June - 1 July and 6-7 October
  2. The government is slashing funding for education for union reps, which partly comes through FE colleges. The Executive will be discussing a report on the implications of this at its next meeting, and it was agreed to discuss this at the next NISC too.
  3. A group from the GPM&IT sector took part in a delegation to Palestine where they met various Palestinian and Israeli groups. One of the delegation explained how she had not been prepared for the horrific oppression she saw. Several of the delegates plan to do a talk about their experience in central London. They also plan to produce a report people can take into workplaces to raise awareness.
  4. Rick Graham from the research department is willing to help reps put together pay claims, but bear in mind that he now covers four UNITE sectors.
  5. I asked Rick to get more information on the reports of big changes to the use of contractors and its potential impact in IT.
  6. Two motions were agreed to go to the national sector conference (24 November). One was on organising in the sector. The second was about getting Corbyn's support for an industrial strategy for the sector.
  7. A new strategy for the IT & Comms part of the sector will be launched at the national sector conference.
  8. The IT & Comms Advisory Committee will meet again early in 2016.
  9. UNITE has regained union recognition at PCP in the West Midlands, having lost it over 25 years ago.
  10. The GPM&IT "change at work" training event will now be held 11-16 April 2016 in Eastbourne. Activists are encouraged to book places ASAP and by January because rooms may be released then if not booked.

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