Thursday, 27 March 2014

UNISON and UCU members lobby UCEA for #FairPayinHE

‪#‎FairpayinHE‬ lobby of UCEA 26th March 2014: what do we want? fair pay! When do we want it? Now!
 Wednesday 26th March, 1-2pm, Woburn House
We're not going anywhere till you pay up! 

Monday, 24 March 2014


Please prioritize Motion 53 (see full text below) for UNISON National Delegates Conference (NDC) 2014.  

I would say that, though, wouldn't I? 


max and jawad
Motion 53.
This conference notes with concern the increasing number of trade union activists who are being victimised under this Tory-led government. We believe there will be an increasing number of victimised trade union reps, because we are at the forefront of defending the public sector from the cuts we all face.
We must learn the lessons of campaigns to defend trade union activists – both successful and unsuccessful. One successful example is the campaign to 'Defend Jawad, Max and Steve'. Max Watson was Chair of London Met University UNISON Branch on 7th Feb 2013 when he was suspended alongside Jawad Botmeh (also a UNISON member) and Steve Jefferys (a UCU member).
This conference notes the campaign for 'Freedom and Justice for Jawad and Samar' against the miscarriage of justice they faced when imprisoned in 1996 on a charge of conspiracy to cause explosions, which received national UNISON support. We believe this support was fundamental to gaining support for the subsequently successful campaign to reinstate Jawad, Max and Steve in 2013.
After five weeks of campaigning, including; rallies outside investigation hearings attracting over 200 people; 2,500+ names on a petition; hundreds of emails and letters sent to the university management; letters of support from across the labour movement and around the world; all support publicised via a campaign website; organised through a Facebook Group, email list and twitter account; 200+ people at a public meeting with speakers from across the labour movement; an immediate threat of (lawful) industrial action (within UNISON's rules); and vitally, all with the full and support of UNISON's NEC and Presidential Team, Max Watson was reinstated and returned to work on 13th March 2013.
As a direct result of this vigorous campaigning with the full support of our union the direct threat of dismissal, which could have decapitated the branch, was reduced to a six months final written warning. UNISON's solicitors, Thompsons, then challenged this sanction with a claim for trade union victimisation to an Employment Tribunal.
Conference – made up of delegates of active trade unionists who put our necks on the line for our members day in day out – resolves to do all in our power to protect our own; to stand up for each other when called on, and to protect the 'backbone' of our union.
It is inevitable that anyone fighting austerity will face attacks form their employers and this is increasingly the case. So trade union activists must know that the full force of their union will come to their aid if they are singled out for attention. To this end, conference calls on the NEC to monitor all known cases of UNISON activists who are facing persecution in their workplace and to ensure the maximum, vigorous support for their campaigns is forthcoming whenever requested. We cannot and we will not allow a single UNISON activist to be victimised under our watch.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Employment Appeal Tribunal submitted: Max Watson vs London Metropolitan University

Dear UNISON members,

As you know, UNISON submitted an Employment Tribunal claim against London Met Uni for trade union victimisation (Max Watson vs London Metropolitan University) and we had a hearing in January but it was not successful. 

This week Thompsons, UNISON's solicitors, submitted an appeal against that judgement. 

We will update you further once an outcome to that appeal is known but until then will make no further comment.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Justice for Cleaners at SOAS - UNISON members on strike for third day

UNISON cleaners at SOAS are taking a third day of strike action today in their ongoing fight for justice. 

I spoke to Lenin Escudero Zarsoza this morning on their picket line (photo) and asked him about the latest offer from ISS for improved terms:

"It was not an offer, it was an insult. We rejected it unanimously, and it just made the members more angry, more determined to carry on fighting for justice."

"Firstly ISS said 'call off the strike and we can talk', then this insult. They need to make a real offer then we can talk."

The SOAS cleaners in their fight for justice continue to be an inspiration to all trade unionists. 

This is a really important struggle that we must win. So please go to the Justice for Cleaners SOAS Facebook page for more info on how you can support. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Lobby UCEA - Fair Pay in HE #FairPayinHE 26th March, 1-2pm, Woburn House

Lobby UCEA - Fair Pay in HE #FairPayinHE

Wednesday 26th March, 1-2pm, Woburn House
A new round of pay talks in Higher Ed start on 26th March at the Employers organisation 'UCEA'. 

The unions are still in dispute over our pay claim for 2013 so, following our coordinated strikes in October, December and February, London Met UNISON have called for a lobby of the employers as new talks begin. 

We are not going anywhere – we have pledged to continue standing up for a decent pay rise. We need to show the employers that we've not given up and this dispute is still live. We call on all London branches of UNISON, UCU, and Unite plus all supportive students to join us for a lunch time lobby: 

Wednesday 26 March 2014, 1.00 – 2.00pm
UCEA offices, Woburn House 20 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9HU (map in leaflet attached)

Contact us to let us know you're coming: 

0207 133 2459 / 07949 039 187 

@LondonMetUNISON #FairpayinHE 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

All eyes on SOAS UNISON's Justice for Cleaners campaign

For those of you not able to get to show support in person and be inspired by the SOAS strike over the last two days, there are loads more fantastic photos on their facebook page.

Another HE Branch secretary asked me where to send their cheque as a branch donation, and the answer is:

Cheques payable to 'UNISON SOAS', send it to UNISON Branch Secretary Sandy Nicoll, SOAS, Thornhaugh St. Russell Square, London WC1H 0XH

London Met Uni UNISON Branch Committee did a quick whip-round as a solidarity gesture and matched the funds from our branch account and shared this photo with them (left).

So I brought £96 to their picket lines this morning to donate to their branch hardship fund. They clearly aren't short of bodies (see top) so I didn't need to stay long... but they will soon be short of money if the contractor ISS and their paymasters SOAS dig their heals in.

Yet if every UNISON branch in HE or in London did the same they'd easily have the funds to sustain this fight for as long as it takes.

And it's an important fight that we win so we can see the positive result of organising outsourced workers and taking the fight to the global outsourcing giant.

This really is a David and Goliath story: and the harder they come, the harder they fall. What can you do to help David take on this giant (the revenue for ISS in 2011 was approximately 10.4 billion Euros)?

Make sure you get a donation from your branch if you can - any AGMs still coming up? Do a bucket collection and send your cheques in. We need more victories to celebrate. All eyes on SOAS!

Dis-honoraria in UNISON

Why do some branches pay their reps a little bonus at the end of each year?

I just don't get it and I've never heard any explanation beyond "it's a historical hang up".

We do our work as trade union reps in the workplace as paid members of staff, and continue to get paid the same wage we would normally get in our 'substantive' jobs - at least that is how I get my salary.

And my facility time allows me to spend time focussing on working on behalf of members in their interests - and it's important I'm on the same terms and conditions as my members. So if I'm campaigning for a pay rise or to defend our pensions it affects my pension and my pay too.

It seems to me that all goes out of the window if I can top up my pay each year with a little 'thanks very much', a nod and a wink.

So at the London Regional AGM last week I noticed in the Finance report that there are branches who had paid their activists a little bonus to themselves even though they'd had an inquorate AGM: I don't get it - can someone explain?

And then I noticed that since UNISON now has new guidance on branches not paying more than 10 percent of their income in 'honoraria' - and that despite this guidance two branches had gone above 10 percent. However with 'good reason' so it was approved.

So I asked: which branches were they, and what were their 'good' reasons? I'm awaiting a written response but I got the impression from others it ought to be shared with all branches at the next (presumably inquorate) council meeting.

We're paying our members' subs on campaign materials, organisers, consultants/ research reports, room bookings, food and drink, photocopying, badges, leaflets, trips to the seaside, or even to the pub for a Christmas social ... we break even just about. And we account for every penny.

We should pay expenses obviously - that's different. Travel costs, childcare costs, loss of earnings or whatever to make sure you're not out of pocket for doing union work. Otherwise only the higher paid staff could afford to do union work.

However I could not justify to members at an AGM a payment (above expenses) to myself or to other reps. Maybe that's one reason why their AGMs were inquorate ... ?

I was once challenged by a union member about my 'stewards allowance'. I didn't know what he was talking about and I thought it was just an anti-union myth.

Then I came to find out actually some UNISON activists really are paying themselves each year - undermining those of us who don't do that and never have.

I think it has to stop; it is bringing our union into disrepute and somehow we need to find a way to cut ties with these past practices.

It should have no place in our union, it should be considered dis-honoraria.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

28 Days to go. Please Sign Barnet UNISON's 'Gagging Petition'

Please sign our petition here:

Defending Barnet UNISON - a priority for every trade unionist

Prof  Keith Ewing was an excellent guest speaker at the HE UNISON conference - about what is one of the most urgent issues facing trade unionists today, the attacks on union reps and our facility time.

Prof Ewing focused on the Blacklist in the construction industry, which I've mentioned before on this blog.

However, there are two trade unionists whose names everybody in UNISON should know: John Burgess and Helen Davies, the Branch Secretary and Chair of Barnet Local Government UNISON branch, who have been the driving force behind their inspirational campaign to stop the privatisation of their local public services.

On 1st April they're being evicted from their trade union office and their facility time is being cut to zero by the Tory borough.

We should all be familiar with blatant and sometimes illegal attacks on trade unionists (such as the blacklist in the construction industry) - and I've covered another example here recently, the sacking of Charlotte Monroe.

Barnet council have shown there is 'more than one way to skin a cat' - if you don't think you  can get away with de recognition of a trade union, or the more blunt option of sacking a rep - they've decided to go for their agreed facility time.

This is a de facto de-recognition, making it impossible for John and Helen and their branch Committee to function properly as reps.

Rather than bury our heads in the sand, hoping it will go away (and thankful that's not happening to your branch), every trade unionist and every part of the biggest public trade union in the country should be up in arms about this.

Sign their petition, share it, and ask your regional reps - what are you doing to stop what is happening in Barnet?

We have less than a month to stop this: It is the thin end of the wedge.

Get in touch and find out how you can help, how you can support them.

John had been promised a new report (photo) by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) - Keith Ewing is their President. The first thing I'll be doing on Monday morning is posting it to their branch first class. By the way, I have a couple of spares left if you want one.

What else can we do?

Keith Ewing said we should demand from our councils that they don't give public sector contracts to companies who use blacklists (and the same should apply to Universities). We should be saying:

"If you are going to blacklist us we're going to blacklist you!"
Keith Ewing also called on three things we should demand from a Labour Government:

  1. We want laws to stop black listing forever
  2. We want a law to stop victimizing trade unionists
  3. We should be demanding the restoration of trade union facility time

If you still have a facilities agreement and some money in the bank (more on that later) we should all affiliate to the Institute of Employment Rights, and get their reports sent direct to you office. That is, whilst you still have an office to send it to ... because that is more than Helen and John will have if we them get away with it.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Resistance to pay freeze continues? UNISON conference votes for further consultation #UNHE14

Higher Education UNISON delegates gathered in Brighton on Thursday 27th Feb (see #UNHE14) to discuss our policy for the year ahead. Top of the agenda on everybody's mind was the pay dispute (#FairpayinHE). Everybody, that is, except the Standing Orders Committee (SOC), the body which sets the agenda, for whom it was ... bottom of the agenda. After 24 other motions, meaning we might not get to talk about it at all.

This nonsense immediately brought back memories of two years ago when the same SOC ruled out all five emergency motions on pensions in the middle of our dispute, and the then President, lost control of conference by patronising delegates and backing up the SOC, leading to utter chaos.

This year was completely different though; we had a healthy debate on our pay dispute and spent over an hour debating the key issue at a delegate-based conference - the way it should be.

How? Firstly, delegates led by Lucinder Wakefield of Sheffield Hallam, articulated brilliantly the need to 'refer back' the SOC report and seek to change the order of business. That vote was overwhelming. Then came the surprise: the Vice-President (with the backing of NEC members present) actually overruled the SOC when they refused to bring the debate on pay forward, as was the will of conference.

Instead of booing and heckling the President, delegates gave her a standing ovation at the end of the conference for allowing conference to discuss the top issue of the day: Pay.

So where next on pay?
So what did conference decide we should do? There were three options broadly, and none of the options called for an end to the dispute.

1) Cool things off - a 'time to reflect'
One option was to cool things off for a bit - no more strike action until a consultation with membership on what action next which will inform our next steps. The exec group backed this position expressed in Emergency Motion 1, and conference narrowly agreed. The room was divided and the vote was very close in favour (the vote was taken twice). Whilst Emergency Motion 1 was clearly carried and this meant all others fell, quite a few delegates called for a card vote and if this had gone ahead, who knows which way it would have gone due to a large variation in branch sizes.

Whilst I'm bound to collective responsibility, it would be strange if I had not supported the second option:

2) Develop our strategy to win
Emergency Motion 6 was submitted by London Metropolitan University and called for developing a strategy to win: for exploring further coordination of strike action with other unions in dispute, exploring 26th March with the NUT as an option as well as referring to the Local Government pay dispute; a supplementary ballot for action short of a strike (ASOS); and for rolling the dispute into next year's pay claim.

This was a result of a debate in our branch and after I'd heard from a few others in London calling for other action in addition to strike action (like ASOS). I might have disagreed with part of this but tactically I think it's helpful to equip ourselves with all options going forward.

3) Call for a strike on 26th March, with the NUT
Another motion from Manchester Met called for making immediate preparations for taking strike action on the same day as school teachers in the NUT on the 26th March. This position received the most support from the left, but fell after EM1 was passed.

Left unity
Left activists had met the night before and had an excellent discussion on how to move forward and learn the lessons of our struggle over the last few months. I think we should be enormously proud of ourselves for continuing our dispute and putting up a brave fight against a recalcitrant employers' association and viscous government determined to hold down public sector pay, and also against sometimes reluctant and plodding elements who have done everything in their power to undermine our dispute.

We on the left shared our experiences with Students who have fought privatisation at Sussex: Adriano Mérola Marotta, one of the victimised 'Sussex five' students spoke; and Trish McManus from the UCU shared their experiences facing similar hurdles as we have in UNISON. The ties and bonds between us over the last few months has been strengthened - and the UCU Left meeting today is a great chance for UNISON reps to get together and solidify those relationships.

Is there still a mood for more action?
One delegate from Middlesex branch neatly summarized the position which won the day: "We're not saying we should end the strike action, just that we should wait until members have been fully consulted." What was interesting was only two days before, at the London regional AGM, we heard a report from the very same Middlesex branch Chair that their members had just been consulted and had indeed voted for more action. The delegate must have run out of time before he mentioned that...

Many UNISON branches still have their AGMs coming up - this is a perfect opportunity to sound out members for what action they're prepared to take but also to show some leadership, not passively ask closed questions. The more members coming together to discuss how we can take our dispute forward and into the next round of talks the better. The question asked is important: for us in London Met branch Committee we discussed not "if" we should take more action to win the dispute, but "what" should the next steps be - what kind of action we should take to further our aims.

We discussed two hour strikes, walks outs, action short of a strike (working to rule), and more. We need to get creative, get mobilising members again. And yes, we need to talk about hooking up with other unions in dispute, not just the UCU but also the NUT, NAPO, FBU or others. To be sure: we need to strengthen the confidence in our own members' and stop playing down the impact of our strikes. The mood from the conference shows we're not far off the mark.

One delegate spoke against calling for strike action on 26th March and for opening consultation: "The trouble with leading, is that if no-one is with you, you are essentially just out for a walk." That may be the case, but at least when you are walking you are moving in any direction. The trouble with standing still, or pausing whilst you 'reflect', is you're not going anywhere.

This is the crux of the matter. We must believe we can win, show leadership, bravery and honesty in our ability to change the mood from pessimism to optimism. We must actively engage in this consultation and win the members back to believing we have a strategy to win against a divided employer. It mustn't just be a passive consultation whilst reps all go back to the daily grind of case work, secretly glad that's all over with.

Increased strength, new reps and first-time speakers
One delegate from LSE talked passionately about a surge in membership in his branch once they began to take action. Suddenly their union was visibly doing something significant for their members again - another rep from Queen Mary had said the same in London AGM. This is the case across the sector - we had a massive spike in membership during our dispute. We also saw quite a few new faces and first time speakers at conference - particularly women.

Another rep from Bath talked about the new activity there for well supported strikes. David Summers, our delegate from London Met described travelling for over two hours across London during the RMT strike to get to a strike rally at Tower Building on 6th Feb. The dedication and commitment of our activists to this immense struggle has been exemplary and should be commended not downplayed.

We've held our line remarkably well in places - and this is in stark contrast to two identical emergency motions which belittled our strikes and talked down the strength of our union. Thankfully it was not passed by conference as it was a most unhelpful motion.

There is obviously a difference in experience, and as one delegate who was in favour of the 'Time to reflect' motion, said: "The speakers against our motion are the passion and the lifeblood of our union....but...."

Huge achievements so far
We have put up a huge struggle so far and we should be proud to have come this far. We have shown the employers, who did not think we would put up such a fight, that we mean business. They have down played the action and yet would love for us to call off further action.

There were many who didn't believe we would get a ballot, nor win a yes vote for action at all. Some branches who voted for further consultation this year didn't engage in the consultation before the ballot last year (therefore bringing down the turn-out), and then they complained that we didn't have a mandate to strike with such a low turn out!

Some didn't believe we could pull off the first day of action nor the second and they were proven wrong every time. Some even tried to get the HE SGE to call off the third day altogether when we had already taken a democratic decision to call that day of action and build for two months before, on 6th December.

Since the dispute began, several Universities have relented and agreed to back the Living wage. Others have shown their colours by giving their staff a one-off bonus at Christmas time last year. Higher Ed branches have grown in confidence where previously they've had little activity. The employers will be thinking very carefully about what they offer us next year and are suddenly are inviting us to 'exploratory talks'.

So we've faced an up-hill struggle to get where we are. I believe the employers will be adamant that we call off further action before a new round of talks and this is evidence of our impact. Our heads should be held high - not matter what happens in the near future we've given them all a good run for their money.

And the left have played a key role in all this; we've worked well together when it counts; remained comradely whilst some others are seemingly obsessed with fighting among themselves; we've strengthened our reach and are in a good position to build for the next phase.

Going forward
As well as March 26th NUT strike, we should also keep a close eye on three things, two local disputes and one national:

1) First, the SOAS UNISON dispute: two days of strike action are planned 4th and 5th March by cleaners calling for equal terms and conditions as in house staff. Victory there would be an inspiration for our whole sector.

2) Second, the Birmingham Uni UNISON dispute where they look like they're on the cusp of a significant win on local pay talks after taking two days strike action and threatening escalation.

3) Perhaps more importantly, the consultation in UNISON's local government Service Group. If the largest local bargaining unit in the country moves towards a ballot (as they appear to be), this will change the balance of things quickly.

All three will frame the confidence of our union as a whole as well as the HE sector. Judging from conference, and if we pro-actively engage in the new consultation, my prediction is this fight ain't over yet.