Tuesday, 24 February 2015

'Reclaim the Union': Left Caucus - pre Higher Education conference Wed 25th Feb

There will be a left caucus meeting at 6pm at Cue Gardens (BD6 1BJ) on Wednesday 25th Feb - the night before Conference.

We don’t anticipate this lasting much longer than an hour and a half, (depending on the nature of the issues we have to deal with). This should leave everyone with enough time to head back to the hotel or into town should they wish to eat/drink/sleep. etc.

We’ll require some small donations to cover the cost of the meeting room, which is booked all evening for those who wish to stay behind after the meeting to socialise (no UNISON resources will be spent on this).

If you aren't due to arrive in Bradford until later in the evening please feel free to contact Max on 07793 145754 or Patrick on 07757 915874 for a quick run through of what was discussed, whether on the phone or in the Conference hotel later.

Spread the word - see you there? This is an open meeting for left UNISON activists.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Who has nominated Max Watson for NEC, 2015

In January 2015 I sent out my letter seeking nominations for the NEC election to the Higher Education General seat. So far, I've received nominations from the following UNISON branches:

  1. Bolton Metropolitan University*
  2. Liverpool John Moores University
  3. London Metropolitan University
  4. London South Bank University
  5. Manchester Metropolitan University
  6. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  7. Southampton Solent University
  8. Staffordshire University
  9. Brighton University
  10. Cambridge University  
  11. University of West of England
  12. University of East London*
  13. University of South Wales
  14. Westminster University 
  15. Birmingham University 
  16. University of Bristol
  17. Leeds University 

* These nominations have been 'rejected' by UNISON - for reasons unknown to me...

Thanks to every one of you in those branch committees who voted to nominate me in the last few weeks - it has been a real pleasure to represent you over the last five years and an honour to be your fighting rep on the NEC for HE.

Thanks especially to those activists who took the time out of their very busy lives doing their best to fight the cuts, resist job losses and privatisation - I do know how stretched we all are during these tough times.

I'll be writing to you all separately soon.

The first time I stood for the NEC, in a by-election in 2010, I received nine branch nominations and then won the vote.

In 2011, I received nineteen branch nominations and was elected unopposed.

For the last NEC election, in 2013, fifteen branches nominated me for the NEC and again I was elected without opposition.

So, the question is: has another candidate gathered the two or more branch nominations required to stand against me to trigger an election this time? The deadline for nominations is tomorrow, 20th February, 5pm.

By the way, in 2010, when there was an election, my ballot paper did not arrive in time for me to vote (I've kept it on my notice board instead, see photo); so funnily enough I've not actually been able to vote for myself for the NEC yet. I'll let you know if things change...

I wish UNISON would stop advertising itself as a dental plan

UNISON does some things well but occasionally it does things so badly I have to break rank and say what I really think: that recruitment campaign is just awful.

On the NEC we regularly hear about boosts in recruitment figures due to this campaign and I now bite my tongue. So I've decided to put on record my irritation with the appalling recruitment materials we've been subjected to over the last couple of years.

Any UNISON rep on the ground knows what I mean - those terrible green and white leaflets that advertise UNISON, 'for as little as £1.30p a month'!

Cheap as chips?
Any trade unionist knows that most public sector workers are very likely to be paying much more than that for their subs, so why sell union membership as cheap as chips when in reality it's not?

It may be cheaper than some people like to claim: I know an anti-union worker who refuses to join because of the cost of what he claims was his old union membership fees back in the days of the closed shop, and every time I hear his excuse he inflates the price to an absurd level. Exaggerating the low cost just as dramatically, though, is just as dishonest.

A helpline for cleaner teeth!
The thing about these leaflets/ adverts aren't just that they're disingenuous about cost - and most people can see straight through that - which is bad enough. The thing is, we're not really advertising a trade union at all. It's an ad for a service model, like an insurance policy. A cross between the Citizens' Advice Bureau and the RAC, as another NEC member put it.

The TV advert above, which is on constant loop in the HQ, really makes me wince: that boy with the irritatingly white toothy grin. A 'helpline for advice' ... 'Exclusive member discounts'! In this world, the 'union' is just something that you may have to call on when you need help but not participate in. Like a credit 'union'.

Language is important. UNISON is not even described as a 'trade union'. And if you want to find the word 'organise' in their especially designed website to 'join UNISON', you will be hard pressed. I tried it with a search to check I wasn't missing some hard to reach segment of the website that encouraged you to get involved or become a rep.

Where are the bits about voting, having your say? About turning up to meetings and engaging; about democracy and participation? There is nothing about those things we talk about when we have 'organising agenda' motions at National Delegates Conference every year.

Why pretend to members?
I heard others who've agreed with these criticisms of these leaflets when they came out and the best response I could get was from an organiser who said you have to have face-to-face conversations about all of that stuff whilst getting them to fill in the (less than perfect) forms. OK, but the union makes a big deal out of the fact an increasing number of new members joining online - which discourages face to face conversations.

I've heard others complain about the resources taken away from the very services they're advertising in order to focus on regular recruitment drives in regions. Mind you I've heard some of the same people praise the ingenuity of having an advertorial in the Metro once they get onto the NEC (but how quickly people can pull rank once they're in a room with Dave Prentis is another story)...

The union leadership often points to low turn outs in industrial action ballots. These service model recruitment forms hardly help on that front do they? If you join online after seeing an advert in the Metro or on day time TV for some financial advice and a dental plan, then why would you bother to vote when a ballot comes in the post.

I've raised these criticisms on the NEC and on the Higher Ed Service Group Executive when the leaflets were new, so it's not as if I'm going behind anyone's back here.

When I first set this blog up I said I would report back here as often as I could. It's been difficult (especially since becoming a dad) to keep up full reports of each meeting but there is my penny's worth on the new recruitment material which for the last couple of years have been a common theme.

I should add that one thing I do like about the new forms is they have the Direct Debit part embedded in all forms now, which is handy for recruiting privatised workers who are not likely to be able to pay via deductions at work ('check-off'). Mind you it took two years to get them translated into other languages, which considering the number of  migrant workers in outsourced sectors is a 'no brainer' - and something I'd been harping on about like a scratched record for four years on the NEC.

And in fairness the HE service group have created modified forms for our sector which highlights the two percent pay settlement we won due to strike action last year.

I've got a few other themes I'll get off my chest at some point before June...

Monday, 16 February 2015

'Reclaim the Union': left candidates for UNISON NEC elections, 2015

The following candidates are standing under the Reclaim the Union banner for the UNISON NEC elections, 2015, and were endorsed at a meeting in Manchester, 17th January 2015 (photo):



Tuesday, 3 February 2015

‎Vote for a Campaigning and Democratic UNISON! Vote to fight for Fair Pay!

‎Regional convenor
John Burgess, Barnet LG

Deputy regional convenor
April Ashley, Southwark

Regional Finance
Hugo Pierre, Camden

Regional publicity
Phoebe Watkins, Camden LG

Regional equalities 
Angela Boyle, Lambeth LG

Regional committee 
George Binette, Glenn Kelly, John McLoughlin

Women's seats:
Mandy Berger, Sonya Howard, Rosemary Plummer, Phoebe Watkins

TUC delegation: Mandy Berger

NDC: Andrew Berry & Phoebe Watkins

National Standing Orders Committee: Andrew Berry

‎Vote for a Campaigning and Democratic UNISON! Vote to fight for Fair Pay!

The candidates listed above, who are standing in tomorrow's elections (at the London Regional AGM) are united in opposition to the pay freeze.

UNISON members in health ‎and local government have shown their willingness to take strike action for fair pay in the past year.

Unfortunately our negotiators have consulted members on unsatisfactory pay offers without an honest recommendation to reject - UNISON has been failing to deliver the fair pay for which our members are willing to fight.

Some of our leaders believe in "partnership" with employers - what UNISON members need is a trade union which will stand up for ‎our members' pay and jobs and a leadership which will lead a fight.

(Alternatively, if you believe the above are "ultra left evil ones" then vote for more of the same).