Friday, 22 June 2012

Proud to support justice for Palestine at #UNDC12

At this year's #UNDC12 I was very proud to speak at a fringe meeting about my experience living and working in Palestine, and talked a bit about prisoners and in particular, Ahmad Abu Haniya. Here is his story:

Human rights worker released after two years in administrative detention

14 May 2007

Ahmad Abu Haniya after being released from administrative detention on 14 May 2007. (Alternative Information Center)

Ahmad Abu Haniya, the AIC Youth Project Coordinator, will be released from administrative detention this morning (Tuesday 14 May), after two years of imprisonment without trial or charges.

Ahmad was detained at a checkpoint on his way to work on 18 May 2005 and placed in administrative detention, which is imprisonment without trial or charges. As with all of the approximately 800 Palestinian administrative detainees currently being held by Israel, Ahmad and his attorney were not even permitted to know the evidence against him.

As Ahmad stated before the military court, "They tell me that I am a danger to the security of the region. Yet for years, I have worked with Israelis. I have Israeli friends. I always emphasize the fact that on this land it is possible to live in peace. How am I dangerous exactly?"

During his time in prison, Ahmad was adopted as an appeal case by Amnesty International, and supported by the American National Lawyers Guild.

The detention of Ahmad and so many other Palestinians blatantly violates international law, which permits administrative detention only as an exceptional and highly regulated measure. Administrative detention violates the fundamental right to liberty and due process, and is used by Israel as a tool to oppress political activists in Palestine who struggle non-violently against the Israeli occupation and for a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

The AIC collective and wider AIC community is thrilled that Ahmad is finally being allowed to return to his family, friends and work for a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and continues to call on Israel to immediately release all of the Palestinians currently being held in administrative detention.

Notes of solidarity and congratulations for Ahmad may be sent to:

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Higher Education Delegates stand shoulder to shoulder with striking UNISON members at Birmingham University

HE Delegates at #UNDC12 today show some solidarity with Birmingham University UNISON members who are on strike today against pay cuts.

In a message to the branch, General Secretary, Dave Prentis wrote:

"On behalf of our national executive council and UNISON conference, I send you our solidarity and full support for your brave action today and tomorrow and your campaign for decent pay. Please convey my very best wishes to all our members taking action."

You can send messages of support to Matthew Raine (Branch Secretary) – 0121 415 8283 –

For more background:


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Support the campaign to Save The Women’s Library

Delegates, please support the Emergency motion to UNISON's National Delegates Conference 2012  #UNDC12, submitted by London Metropolitan University UNISON Branch

Support the campaign to Save The Women's Library

This conference notes:

1. The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University is the premier collection of women's history in the UK. It is a truly unique resource established in 1926 by women who had fought for the vote.

2. The Library collection includes documents recognised by UNESCO which record the heroic struggle for women's suffrage alongside hundreds of thousands of other materials recording the lives lived and campaigns fought by women since the sixteenth century

3. In spite of the Library's acknowledged national and international importance London Metropolitan University's Board of Governors made the decision to find a new home, supporter or custodian for The Women's Library in March 2012, threatening the Library's future and its staff's employment.

4. The Save The Women's Library campaign, initiated by London Met UNISON draws support from a wide range of the Library's supporters and users.

5. Over two-thirds of UNISON members are women and the purple and green colours of our logo pay tribute to the Suffragettes.

This conference believes:

1. In the run-up to a major suffrage anniversary in 2018, The Women's Library should be looking to thrive, not just survive.

2. The Library must be saved as it exists today: retaining the integrity of its world-renowned collection; the expertise of its staff; and the purpose built premises, which have become a vibrant hub for its users, supporters and friends.

3. The threat to The Women's Library is illustrative of the threat to women-focused services which are increasingly at risk due to public sector cuts.

This conference calls upon the NEC to:

1. Support the London Metropolitan University UNISON's Save The Women's Library campaign by promoting and publicising the issue amongst its members and within the broader trade union movement.

2. Write to the London Metropolitan University's Vice Chancellor expressing deep concern at its decision and full support for our campaign to save our own radical heritage.

Reason submitted as an emergency motion: The announcement from management regarding The Women's Library came after the deadline for motions and it cannot be included in an amendment

Monday, 18 June 2012

War & occupation in the Middle East: from Palestine to Iran

Joint Palestine Solidarity Campaign / Stop the War Coalition Fringe Meeting at UNISON Conference


War & occupation in the Middle East: from Palestine to Iran


Wednesday 20th June - End of the conference sessions – 5.15pm

Tregonwell Bar, Bournemouth Conference Centre



Chair: Linda Perks, Greater London Unison

Sarah Colborne, Director Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition

Max Watson, UNISON NEC


Supported by Greater London Unison - Light refreshments provided



Friday, 15 June 2012

Kath Owen, Leeds University branch, 2012 HE Service Group Executive election address

Democracy is about accountability. Kath Owen stood for the Higher Education Service Group Executive, Yorkshire and Humberside Female seat, and was elected unopposed so her election address wasn't sent out to members, which is 'a bit strange'... I am therefore very happy to publish her election address here:

Kath Owen, Leeds University branch, 2012 HE Service Group Executive election address


"This is a crucial time for our union and the members we serve.  The economic situation and current Government's programme of budget cuts and privatisation schemes means hard times in the services in which we work and the public we serve.

Higher Education has seen sweeping changes before legislation has even passed Parliament in full.  The results are uncertainty for our sector and greater stress on staff.  These stresses will only increase as people are asked to do more in less time with what is likely to be a more demanding student body.

As a workplace rep in a students' union I know only too well the difficulties faced by staff in the front-line.  I have been involved in negotiation with management over redundancies, role evaluation, health & safety and changes to shift patterns, mostly with success.  I believe all outcomes are better where a rep is involved but most importantly staff have known that they are not on their own.  All our branches need to make sure SU staff are recruited and supported and this is something I am keen to promote.

Working with students I am aware of the impact of changes being made in the sector.  I remain opposed to the increased financial burden on students and the reduction in funding which brings increased marketisation and uncertainty for our institutions. I have been actively involved in my local anti-cuts group and attended both local and national demonstrations including 26 March and 30 November.

If elected I would be an effective voice for our sector's members at a national level. At this time our union needs to be strong to protect members' terms and conditions, building our membership, working in partnership with allies in local and national student organisations and our colleagues across the public sector.  As union members we are "All in this together" so let's put that sentiment into action."

'Democracy not Bureaucracy in UNISON'

Following five years of a witch hunt by UNISON's leadership against Brian Debus, Glenn Kelly, Onay Kasab, and Suzanne Muna, an Employment Tribunal and an Employment Appeals Tribunal have both declared that they were subjected to 'unjustifiable disciplinary action' by UNISON. Now, unbelievably, UNISON is going to spend (and waste) another £100,000 of members' money appealing this decision.

At last week's NEC, I voted against the decision to appeal. See here for background.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

UNISON HE Service Group shifts left in 2012

Congratulations to those left candidates who stood and won in the Higher Ed Service Group Exec elections, 2012, and in particular those who stood for contested seats, namely: Sandy Nicholl, Molly Cooper, and Matt Raine.

The other explicitly left candidates who were elected unopposed (Shona McCulloch, Andy Beech, Emilse Medina) on the HE SGE will be joining a larger, stronger, younger and more diverse group of rank and file activists who will surely bring a breath of fresh air to our SGE.

Commiserations to those others who fought and lost - Mark Smith in the East and Ivan Bonsell in the SE - or in some cases had their papers get lost in post on the way to UNISON's Euston Towers in 'that London' ...

Extra 'hard luck' to Ivan Bonsell who came within a handful of votes of taking up the long-held SE gen seat.

I'm genuinely excited about the fact the HE SGE now has many new faces and far fewer empty seats. I look forward to working with some 'candidates of struggle' and energetic, younger activists who really do believe we can continue to build a resistance to the vicious assault on the public sector which we face and who aren't afraid to lead a fight back. We are a new generation for a new era.

Sorry to read others are a bit down in the dumps about the overall results - I hope HE brings, as ever, a beacon of hope as the left increases our influence in our quirky part of the largest public sector union in the UK. I do share the disappointment with low number of contested elections and of course a low turnout. And despite improvements there are still too many vacancies.

Why have we bucked the trend in HE and made gains on the left in UNISON? Maybe members in our sector have spent too long being advised they should cross picket lines whilst our sister union the UCU went on strike every year, and became frustrated with a lack of national leadership over similar issues? Maybe the student radicalism of the winter of 2010 had an effect?
Maybe the right wing of the labour movement are not so well entrenched in our sector or as organised as they are elsewhere ie Local Government, with strong local parties more heavily involved? Maybe the beginnings of a genuinely united left putting differences aside meant our small (but perfectly formed) organised left in our sector is starting to blossom?
Having taken a lead in the Living Wage campaigns in London also meant we could easily have encouraged a dozen candidates amongst low paid women to stand; so Emilse winning her seat was not a problem.
Who knows what it is, but we are clearly making a difference.
And I think it is clearly a left vote. Take London, where Sandy and Molly stood on a left slate, and received remarkably similar votes, despite Sandy probably being more recognised as a well established, long standing and respected branch secretary at SOAS plus he is the incumbent. It was a consciously left vote - a political vote for a fighting leadership.

So, keep up the good work folks, and keep building from the bottom up. As Molly told me over a celebratory pint: "It's about making your politics concrete and meaningful to ordinary members."
Now you know who your SGE reps are, keep them to account! Having won an election in 2010, I know it's good to have a mandate for a change in direction.
See you in Bournemouth for #uNDC12 to celebrate and prepare for the year ahead? We have a pay freeze to break, continued attacks on our pensions to resolve, and job cuts and wide-scale privatisation proposals. With this new team, I think we're now in a much stronger position to tackle all these issues head on.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

June 30 - fiesta to celebrate London Living Wage finally being paid at Senate House

Plans are underway for a big celebration to mark the University of London finally starting to pay the London Living Wage to all employee from the start of July.

There will be a fiesta of Latin American music, food, drink and dance at SOAS from 4pm on Saturday 30 June - all welcome!!!!

Just give ( a shout if you fancy coming along or if you want to help out.

More details to follow....

Fight for decent public sector pensions is part of a broader battle

Fight for decent public sector pensions is part of a broader battle

Your editorial (Public sector pensions: Downhill racing, 6 June) wrongly suggests that "the dinner ladies have settled". In fact, there is an offer that thousands of GMB, Unite and Unison members, including school meal workers, across England and Wales will soon be balloted on. While national union officials may be keen to see swift acceptance of a deal branded "LGPS 2014" (Local Government Pension Scheme), ballot results on similar proposals in other pension schemes – among lower-paid health workers as well as doctors, civil servants, teachers and college lecturers – all indicate that "dinner ladies" and council workers may reject the deal.

These current offers not only sound the death knell of final-salary schemes, but signal an acceptance of a link to the state retirement age. This means a likely contribution increase over a working life in return for a potentially worse payout on retirement. Meanwhile, there is now the real prospect of workers currently under age 37 facing retirement at age 70.

Contrary to the editorial's conclusion that mass sackings across the public sector are making pension schemes more "affordable", the impact of job losses could well be the opposite as hundreds of thousands cease to contribute to schemes and thousands of those made redundant start to draw their pensions early.

The Tory-led coalition has indeed seen the erosion of final-salary pension schemes as a central plank of its more general offensive against the public sector and its workforce in anticipation of accelerating privatisation. The fight around pensions has therefore been part of a more fundamental battle, which is not yet resolved. This battle over essential inequality is not between public and private sector workers, but between the vast majority of the population and a small minority of corporate bosses – and their political allies – whose pensions remain unassailable.

With all this in mind, many Unison activists are determined to work alongside fellow trade unionists to ensure that the pensions fight is rekindled.

George Binette Branch secretary, Camden Unison, Marsha Jane Thompson Branch secretary, Havering Unison

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Nursing mothers now allowed at UNISON conferences (#babyban success)

It's always nice to report good news and small steps forward are important, so I'll start my NEC report on a high note. At the start of the meeting we endorsed a report of a review into 'Children and UNISON Conferences' given to us this morning. The recommendations are that whilst children should not be allowed to enter the conference floor for health and safety reasons (there is a creche facility), but with the exception of children who are breast feeding, who can now access all areas of UNISON conferences. This is great news and follows an incident at HE conference this year which I raised at last NEC (see here).

This small but important success for nursing mothers is hardly the top priority for most members so I'm not going to bang on forever about breast feeding babies on this blog and I'll return to occasionally reporting here about other issues on the NEC and the Higher Ed Service Group and more generally reporting on issues of interest to UNISON members in HE.

Incidentally, this also comes as a relief to myself as the Chair of a branch who missed the deadline on amendments to motions for NDC, which was submitted on the correct date but after the midday deadline (hmph!). That ruled out amendment to Motion 82 had proposed an NEC review into our policy on access for nursing mothers - which has now already happened - with a view to altering the policy, which is now our position.

Before moving on (to Breaking the Pay freeze, settling up on Pensions and Winning the Living Wage, Palestine is still the issue), I think it is right to thank those many activists who did support Gail after she had been removed from the conference hall during the fringe meeting on the Living Wage. It was a distressing and distracting afternoon, so the solidarity and sisterhood displayed by those activists – some of whom we had never met before - really helped to reaffirm those strong beliefs we hold dear in our union and was really welcome and appreciated.

I look forward to meeting those delegates again - hopefully at NDC 2012 – to share with them this good news and to thanking them personally.

Solidarity forever, sisters!