Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Catching up with the vote yes campaign

Like Marsha-Jane, and (hopefully) hundreds of thousands other UNISON members, I voted yes right away two weeks ago.

My baby girl was born the same day as my ballot arrived - and some things in life are more important, even more so than the biggest ever postal ballot for industrial action this country.

So whilst I've been at home nesting, everybody's been out talking about the pensions dispute, and only now I'm playing a bit of catch up.

Firstly, I was glad to see the unmissable envelopes the ballots arrived in, as I'd made it my mission to make sure they didn't look like junk mail.

This morning, I heard Mark Serwotka speak on Radio 4 against "the biggest robbery of a pension scheme this country has ever seen", and our joint-union legal challenge to the arbitrary changes from RPI to CPI.

Michael Meacher has neatly summarised the case for a yes vote, and Jon Rogers has obviously been out and about vigorously campaigning for a good turn out alongside another London regional NEC member, Helen Davies.

Jon persistently raised the need for a Pensions Calculator, which is now online.

Eric Roberts puts public sector pensions into some (bite-sized) historical context, going right back to Cromwell. And Marsh-Jane helpfully explains how to use the calculator if you're part-time or work in London.

I also enjoyed reading about why we should all be 'like mosquitoes' from Roger McKenzie, who had spoken at the HE Branch Seminar last week. I'm sure I've heard the same analogy told to me by one of our activists in London Met Uni branch, who also happened to be up in her home town of Liverpool last week...

It was a shame I couldn't be there to catch up with the HE service group's leading activists, and hear how the yes campaign is going up and down the country, but like public sector pensions, paternity leave was a hard-won battle so I felt obliged to take advantage of my limited rights...

So now I've had a two week break I'm back in action tomorrow, when I'll be re-joining a huge 'yes' campaign. Every vote counts. Like Dave Prentis says, 'make your stand, and vote yes in this ballot' (see below).

If you've not got a ballot paper yet, and you're in the LGPS (rather that SAUL or USS), then call up the Pensions hotline: 0845 355 0845

If we're successful, as I'm confident we will be, then I'll see you out on 30th November.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Southbank University fighting for the Living Wage

One great way to boost support for a cause is a bit of bullying and intimidation from management.

London South Bank University UNISON held a demo last week for the Living Wage, and called for support from the wider movement, for the World day for Decent Work, 7th October. The emails, press releases and Facebook-Event invites went round as normal and their petition - you can still sign it - went online.

Then the private cleaning contractor 'Interserve' responded by threatening the cleaners with disciplinary if they attended the demo, and even the University management threatened UNISON, claiming they had no right to protest at the university entrance over the Living Wage.

That's when support increased from a 'maybe attending' to a 'definitely attending' for many local activists. SOAS, Birckbeck, London Met University UNISON branches, (of course!), and also Lambeth Local Government, Southwark Save our Services, Southbank UCU plus student and community activists all turned out to show solidarity.

Somewhere between 70-100 people turned out for the lunchtime rally - trade union activists really don't like being told by employers we can't go on a demo... The threats to the cleaners, though, worked. Unless you've got really strong organisation and the confidence to defy management en masse - as they did at Senate House in September - then it's too risky for activists to stand up and be counted, easily picked off for victimisation.

Nevertheless, it was a strong display of support for their cause, and it's looking like Southbank should become the 14th London Higher Ed Institution to become a Living Wage employer.

As we know at London Met however, the Living Wage alone is not enough. Winning dignity at work means unionisation, it means organising the rank and file membership and mobilising, training new activists to look after themselves, to stand up to employers who are not used to having to deal with trade unionists. It means demanding - and negotiating around - sick pay, holidays, overtime pay, proper breaks, time off for activists, and ultimately decent pensions too. And it means not accepting a 'promise' to pay the Living Wage some time in the distant future, too.

We're slowly getting there at London Met - our 'quick win' means the organising at a basic level still continues. Those who aren't interested in winning dignity beyond a living wage at work - who just want to put a logo on the employers' website, pat them on the back each year and walk away - can be helpful but only at the early stages of a campaign, in my view.

The hard work of organising for the longer term is left to us. That's why London Met have passed a motion which we hope to bring to HE conference this year called the 'Living Wage is not enough' - and we hope to liaise with other London HE branches at the Seminar in Liverpool, to share experiences, ideas and discuss ways to develop our position.

If your branch or HEI is mentioned in this motion - or if you are thinking about running a Living Wage campaign - please get in touch.

As I said at the rally last Friday:

"We're in the middle of a ballot for strike action to defend our pensions - for what could be the largest public sector strikes in over a generation - but we continue to fight against job cuts, against the pay freeze, and for the Living Wage."

Those without pensions to protect don't want to see their union turning their back on them right now. Other battles continue.

It's a winner - on every level. We win a pay rise for the poorest workers - when most of our members in HE haven't seen a pay rise since 2008. We gain members and new activists to reinvigorate our union. And even employers get to paint themselves in a good light.

Congratulations to LSBU branch for a well organised demo and for making a bit of a splash - and in particular activist Jonathan Buckner who spoke well at the rally (see first photo) - and to the Hidden Workforce for their sterling support (and fantastic placards).

And lastly, well done to VC Martin Earwicker (who is paid £3,581 per week), for helping to build support for our cause by trying to bully and intimidate us. As you can see - it had the opposite effect.

Don't forget to sign their petition.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The NHS is not for sale!

As Nxtgen says, this needs to be defiantly played and spread around again. True, true...

London Met UNISON members are voting YES to Protect our Pensions!




About the national convention

We are a group of trade unionists from the NUT, PCS, Unison, Unite and UCU who have called a national convention to discuss the coordinated strike action set to take place on 30 November.

We are hoping that this conference will bring together trade union activists, anti-cuts campaigners, young people, students and pensioners in order to build the widest possible support for the strikes.

In the run up to the strikes on the 30 June many of us helped organise a 750 strong meeting at Friends Meeting House on 22 June. We are hoping to build on the themes raised at that meeting.

There will be plenaries discussing the scale of the government’s attacks on pensions, jobs, services and conditions, how we can best strengthen and coordinate that action and where we go after the November strikes.

We will also be organising 12 workshops that will give participants a chance to discuss the wider issues that surround the government’s cuts agenda.

In the run up to the conference we will be holding a meeting to discuss speakers and the themes of the workshops. This meeting will be open to all organisations that have sponsored the conference.

If your trade union branch or organisation would like to sponsor the conference, please send us your details here.

Yours in solidarity
Unite the Resistance steering committee

Alex Kenny NUT NEC, Dave Harvey NUT NEC, Gavin Reid UCU NEC, Liz Lawrence UCU NEC, Sean Vernell UCU NEC, Sue Bond PCS Vice President, Zita Holbourne PCS NEC, Andy Reid PCS NEC, Paul Holmes Unison NEC (pc), Karen Reissmann Unison NEC (pc), Jon Rogers Unison NEC (pc), Max Watson Unison NEC (pc), Sara Bennett Unite EC, Martin Mayer Unite EC, Jane Stewart Unite EC, Mark Wood Unite EC


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Of course, I'm voting YES to Protect my Pension!

'We took on board what you said and we did what you told us to do', was not something I was expecting to hear from the presidential team at the NEC on Wed, but well.... there's a first time for everything!

The point I was making - about the envelopes not being clearly a ballot for action, as I raised before at the Service Group Briefing and at the D&O committee - had apparently been listened to. So I'm glad to report there should be a 'VOTE YES' / UNISON logo etc on the envelopes that go out the million plus members in the next few days - so they don't get mistaken for junk mail.

We also discussed selective action, strike pay, and bringing in new sectors (eg members in SAUL), tactics for further action, among other things. See here for the official report for more details.

The first and most crucial task for now, is to win a massive YES vote and to get a strong, convincing turn out. This task cannot be overestimated - a million members need to be reached and convinced to vote before the ballot paper gets to them. To that end, the need for a reliable, easy-to-use calculator was again raised (as the NUT and PSC had in time for the 30th June strike), and members in the NHS scheme have a 'reckoner' online.

A UNISON LGPS calculator isn't ready yet because we don't know the precise details of when, and exactly how much an increase in contributions will be, and so on, for it to be reliable.

There was a palpable sense of unity and common purpose at the NEC - as Jon Rogers seems to tentatively agree. And those cynics - who had dismissed the left so rudely back in July, chuckling to themselves that we cannot possibly 'name a date' yet because we haven't exhausted scheme-specific negotiations - are of course now silent on that point.

Good, let's move on in unity.

Exciting times: let's concentrate on getting the vote out first, and then we can decide on the right tactics for winning after Nov 30th.

A message of support was also sent to Middlesex Uni branch, and to 20 others who are in dispute.

Our dearly missed comrade, Pete McGreal, was also mentioned in the obituaries at the start, when the NEC traditionally has a minute's silence, which was appreciated.