Sunday 19 November 2017

Report from Unite GPM&IT national sector conference 2017

Last week delegates from each of Unite's industrial sectors met in Brighton for their National Sector Conferences. This report covers the plenary, shared between several sectors, and the conference for my own sector - Graphical, Paper, Media & IT.

Each day's plenary consisted of an address from Len McCluskey, the General Secretary, the Deputy General Secretary covering the sectors meeting that day, and Sharon Graham, head of Organising & Leverage presenting on automation.

Len's speech is here:

After the speeches from the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary there was an opportunity for delegates to ask questions.

I asked a question about how effective support could be given to sectoral campaigns when Regional Officers work to regional rather than sectoral priorities. Len McCluskey said this shouldn't be an issue and that any problems should be taken up with the National Officer and if necessary the relevant Assistant General Secretary.

I had concerns about Len's comments about migration, which I took up in the sector conference (see below).

Sharon's speech is here:
If you haven't yet heard Sharon present on the likely impact of automation on jobs, you really should watch the video. Every sector and region will be discussing this in more detail over the next few months, to come up with agreed responses. [If you want a feel for the way new technology may affect not only what jobs are available, but the content and management of work, this piece on Deliveroo is well worth a read].

Outside the formal business of conference speculation and rumour were widespread about the Certification Officer's likely ruling on the General Secretary election. Most people seem to think the election will have to be run again, that McCluskey won't stand this time, and that there are quite a few senior officers jockeying for position, as well as Coyne hoping he can do better next time. Whatever the result of the legal process, I hope that the Executive Council will ensure a better process in any future elections.

Members were elected to the Standing Orders Committee for the next National Sector Conferences.

GPM&IT conference

There were discussions of reports from the three different National Officers we've had in recent months, culminating with Louisa Bull who is in post on an ongoing basis. The discussion generated a lot of points which Louisa will follow up with the National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC).

We had speeches from the UNI and IndustriALL international union federations about building solidarity and organising.

A speaker from the research department talked about the impact of Brexit on employment and in workplaces and the union response. I raised a concern that the presentation didn't mention the members whose jobs are most threatened - those without UK citizenship, and reported the discussion at our NISC about the need to include this properly in materials. I related this to Len's speech, where he had defended migrants by arguing "they" are just like "us" but talked about the way overseas firms had bought up "our" industry. I argued that workers who don't have UK citizenship are "us", thousands of them are Unite members and deserve proper representation. The researcher made a good point about the importance of having an independent union position in defence of migrant workers, not simply reflecting employers' concerns about their access to workers they can exploit.

The following motions were agreed:

1 Organise and Stimulate activism in the sector (GPM&IT NISC)

Historically, at least since the creation of Unite and the GPM/IT Branch Structures, membership levels in certain Branches within the Sector have fluctuated dramatically. This has not only contributed to member discontent, but also aided the lack of recruitment campaigns, plus inhibiting the development of future cadres within our Union. In view of this situation we call on the Regions to operate a greater transparency in line with the Unions and GPM/IT policy by:

  1. Publishing a full list of ALL GPM/IT Branches within each Region, along with graphical details of size, officers (both Elected and Full Time Officers), also whether Company or Composite, to all GPM/IT RISCs. This should remove the problem of members placed into the wrong or inappropriate Branches.
  2. All RISC members’ names, Branch, Workplace, circulated to all GPM/IT Branches, M/FOCs this to facilitate the fact that not all Branches are represented on the RISCs. This would allow RISC members to be more interactive with the members on the work carried out on their behalf within the Region, but also to be available to attend meetings on the Branches, Chapels request.
  3. All existing Regional Branches be trawled as to members employment status, company etc, with members transferred in to either their appropriate Sector Branches, as in the case of GPM/IT, where there is an anomaly, consultation to take place with the member, Branch Secretary and RISC Chair. Members would stay in original Branches where it makes geographical common sense to do so.
  4. That all members transferred out to other Branches, the originating Branch Secretary notified with an explanation why. This should alleviate the fluctuation of membership as at present.
  5. All representation of GPM/IT members, either singular or collectively, by either FTOs or Lay Companions, notification given to both the Branch and the members RISC.
  6. That all wage, terms and conditions negotiations consultation with the appropriate RISC, this to alleviate any infringement on National Agreements where they exist.

This resolution is an attempt to iron out the peaks and troughs within the GPM/IT Branches membership numbers, also to stimulate our activism in the Sector, to grow the Union and become more prominent within the Trade Union, Political and Community movements, not losing sight of the fact that we truly are a membership led Union.

2 GPM & IT Strategy for Growth (East Midlands)

Conference notes the key statistics for the print Industry from the most recent BPIF Facts & Figures report 2017.

In spite of the decline in some traditional print areas the report demonstrates the significant role the industry still plays in UK manufacturing and the rapid continued growth of sections such as packaging in the print industry.

UK printing industry:

  • is the world’s fifth largest producer of printed products
  • has a turnover of £13.8 billion
  • has 116,000 employees
  • consists of 8,400 companies
  • has a gross added value of £5.8 billion
  • made a P.A. capital investment of £700 million in 2016
  • had a positive trade balance of £775 million in 2016

However despite the growth in the print industry which, is dominated by big multi-national companies, our union membership has been in steady decline. Our organising approach needs a coordinated strategy to organise and recruit the 80,000 people working in print that are not members of our union.

This conference calls upon the union to support the sector with all the necessary resources to:

  • map our membership and research the companies in both GPM and IT Sections of the sector to identify potential campaigns and recruitment opportunities.
  • formulate and support a nationally coordinated organising strategy for the subsectors.
  • receive targeted support and resources from the Organising Department at National and Regional level to help deliver the organising of the sector.

3 Development of GPM & IT Sector (North East, Yorkshire & Humber)

The GPM & IT Sector is haemorrhaging members despite a number of medium and large companies being identified as having no members, no reps or being organised.

Conference calls upon the NISC and the union to:

  • do a root and branch trawl of greenfield sites and region to identify firms;
  • to build the Sector and grow;
  • to target potential members and organize;
  • to encourage and train reps in these workplaces.

4 Organising Strategy (North West)

Conference recognises that large sections of the industries in the GPM&IT sector are ununionised or under-unionised, and that this weakens the bargaining position of every worker in the sector. Organising is therefore a high priority if we are to help workers in our sector to build more power to defend and improve their lives.

Conference believes that our sector is affected by trends such as globalisation, automation and artificial intelligence disrupting existing patterns of employment, and that an accurate understanding of trends in employment in our sector and mapping of membership and potential membership are vital to a successful organising strategy.

Conference welcomes the creation of the Work Voice Pay database which helps us map our sector. We also welcome the decision of the NISC to request the addition to the database of sector-specific fields to identify subsector (Chemicals and Print Suppliers; General Print; IT; Newspapers & Magazines; Packaging; Paper & Card; or Publishing & Media) and the organising categories approved by the 2015 sector conference, to be identified for each workplace by the RISC:

  • Substantial single workplaces with recognition – “100%”
  • Workplaces in employers with membership but no recognition – “green field”
  • Workplaces in multi-site companies/groups where we have recognition in parts – “extend horizontally”
  • Unionised workplaces in other industries with ITC outsourced on site to an employer with >20 employees – “client site”
  • The rest – “nurture”

We urge our NISC, National Officer, research department, RISC members, workplace reps, branch officers and officers with GPMIT in their allocations to redouble their efforts to implement the 2015 conference decision to work on mapping the sector as above so that we build a more accurate, complete and up to date picture of GPM&IT workplaces.

In addition to data which can be held in the Work Voice Pay database, the sector should work to identify, for each workplace, factors including:

  1. Number of workers by employer (including agency, subcontractors etc)
  2. Number of members by employer
  3. Details of all reps and branch officers
  4. Details of recognition, I&C and EWC agreements
  5. Unite branch
  6. Any other unions present
  7. Any union structures linking Unite at this workplace with other unions or other workplaces in the same employer.

Communication is at the heart of organising, and is essential to engage more activists with our sector and involve them in the mapping and organising, without which we will be unable to stop and reverse the decline in the GPM&IT sector. We note that RISCs and/or officers have generally failed to implement the 2015 sector conference decision to "email out a short bulletin following each meeting to all GPM&IT reps in their sector, with a copy to the National Officer for consideration of the NISC.”

We therefore resolve that:

  1. Each NISC meeting should decide, early on its agenda, one or more NISC members responsible for drafting a GPM&IT sector newsletter which, once approved by the NISC chair, will be sent to all activists in the sector
  2. The NISC should set up a sector Facebook page for content such as advertising meetings and events, promoting solidarity with a particular emphasis on our own sector, and copies of the sector newsletter
  3. If cuts to Unite's Research department mean it is no longer able to provide analysis of trends in the sector and mapping, the NISC should consider an appeal to branches in the sector to fund a temporary researcher to ensure this information is brought up to date
  4. The NISC should re-elect its Organising Strategy Subcommittee which should remain responsible for developing proposals for organising and servicing each of the identified organising categories more effectively for consideration by the NISC and RISCs. These may include recommendations on officer allocation, branch structure and use of lay companions to allow resources to be focussed on building power for members to win more.

5 Health & Safety in the Sector (East Midlands)

Conference notes that our industries have their own significant hazards which our members face on a day to day basis. While some of these are specific incidents, some are cumulative.

From origination to press, from press to delivery, the printing industry poses many specific health and safety hazards to GPM/IT members, from a range of sources:

  • noise
  • exposure to chemicals
  • ink misting
  • manual handling
  • repetitive movement
  • slips, trips and falls
  • stress
  • vehicular incidents
  • lower limb disorders
  • shift and night work
  • workstation ergonomics
  • repetitive strain injury

While union organised workplaces are known to be 50% safer and that is one of the main reasons people join and possibly stay in a union. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has had frequent funding cuts and making the print industry ‘Low Risk’ Means we will not see proactive HSE inspections in the GPM/IT sector. Along with previous and current government continuing to water down and cut regulation that protect us, and with the threat that Brexit brings to health and safety within our industry it is vital that we do all in our power to keep and improve workplace safety for our members.

Conference calls on the NISC to support and resource:

  • setting up a specific GPM/IT National Health & Safety committee to identify hazardous trends within the industry, both current and the hazards of new technology
  • run directed safety campaigns for the GPM/IT sector to inform and educate members of the risks of the trade.
  • formulate and plan on how to raise the profile of Health and Safety within the sector
  • notify all RISCs of serious incidents that happen nationally in the GPM/IT sector.

6 Automation Strategy (London & Eastern)

Conference calls on the Executive Council to adopt a wide-reaching strategy in both the industrial and political spheres.

Actions are now required based on the accelerating rate of technological competence and adoption. We call upon the Executive Council to promote:

  • Campaigns to bring about fundamental changes to Education Policy. In the short-term learning to code and having good IT literacy skills should be a basic feature. In the longer-term emphasis needs to be on creative, analytical and social skills to ensure humans can engage in continuous learning just as technical skills become obsolete as they are transferred through machine-learning to automated systems.
  • Working time strategies incorporating longer holidays and job sharing. As large-scale technological unemployment occurs how the remaining work is reallocated to humans is critical. A demand for a 30 hour week should be adopted now and reviewed as automation evolves.
  • Establishing job guarantee schemes run by the public sector to allow humans to remain active and utilise their skills in socially beneficial activities e.g. environment, social care, health, cultural development
  • Changes to the taxation policy from income to capital. In a future world of work where most of the work is performed by robots and AI labour will not be a sufficient source of funding for society’s needs. Taxation must therefore switch to capital and workers via expanded “ownership” can become individually less reliant on income through wages.

Clearly, the impact upon humans and the current economic systems by automation is not a technical task. Genuine and long-lasting safeguards and opportunities cannot be achieved at the workplace or even industrial sector level. As important as retraining within the workplace and technology collective agreements are the sheer scale of the automation impact requires political priority reconfigurations.

Furthermore, Conference calls upon the EC to direct all the union’s industrial committee structures to make automation strategy a permanent feature of their work just as organising, equality, health and safety now are.

The union must play to its strengths and there is considerable knowledge already possessed by workers in the UK technology sector – both within the membership and sympathetic external organisations. The future ability to successfully prosecute workers struggles and demands by affecting the means of production will be rooted in technology. In the past we have “got away” with ignoring the need to organise technology workers in even other well organised workplaces. In the future that is not an option.

7 Paperless Meetings (London & Eastern)

Conference is concerned by the recent trend towards paperless meetings both in our own union and the wider trade union movement. As a Graphical & IT sector we support the use of technology in all meetings but we also want people to have the choice when it comes to the way in which they interact in these forums between the use of paper and digital documentation. The trend away from paper does not only impact our members’ jobs and job security, but it makes the assumption that everyone is competent and confident to use the new technology and has access. There are serious concerns that the inequality of access and the cost implications for home printing have not yet been addressed.

Unite is a strong supporter of the "Keep Me Posted" campaign that makes a strong argument that there should be consumer choice between paper and digital communication when it comes to how we receive our bills and bank statements. In a recent survey the campaign found that over 81% of consumers want the choice and over 56% agree that they would be more likely to read a paper statement.

There are always two sides to any argument and we should share the findings from the "twosides" global campaign group. Twosides promotes the responsible use of Print and Paper which, when sourced from certified or sustainably managed forests, is a uniquely powerful and natural communications medium. Over 75% of pulp delivered to European paper and board mills carries a Forest Certification that indicates it is from a truly renewable and sustainable resource.

Conference calls on the NISC to pull together the supporting evidence for the continued use of paper and digital communication.

A paper should be urgently presented to the Executive Council to ensure that Unite has a strong policy to continue with both paper and digital communications in all of our committees, conferences and other activities. The Executive Council should be asked to use our paper to persuade the TUC and other affiliates to do the same.

8 Labour Party Printing (North East, Yorkshire & Humber)

Conference calls upon the union to ensure the Labour Party and Labour candidates at all levels (parliamentary, Euro and local/mayoral) to only source print, publishing and paper from bona fide unionised sources. This is at a time when the GPM & IT Sector continues to fund and support the Party. This motion will support our members and families livelihoods rather than sending work to non-union sources.

We urge the union and Unite’s members of the Labour NEC to vigorously ensure this is upheld by the Labour Party.

9 European Works Councils (South East)

Conference calls on the National officer for the sector to arrange training to be given to officers of the union with responsibility for European works councils, to enable them to fully carry out their duties as coordinator/expert on EWCs.

Time for training and other related duties in regards to EWCs should be granted by their Regional secretary.

With the uncertainty surrounding post Brexit it is vital this sector continues to lead the way, in working alongside our European brothers and sisters, in strengthening our links with sister plants in Europe.

EWCs can be a useful tool for the betterment of our members if we take ownership of them. Conference believes this is best achieved with well trained Unite officials attending them as experts .