Monday, March 30, 2015

What’s the choice in this election?

Newham Local Government Branch AGM 2015 - The threat to your pensions- "if it sounds too good to be true then..."

On Friday I was invited to speak at the annual general meeting of the Newham UNISON branch at the Town Hall in East Ham.

This was in my trade union capacity as the Chair of the London UNISON pension network. This is my written speech below.

"Thank you Gloria and Newham UNISON for inviting me to speak on this very important issue. Like many of us in the Labour movement I wear a number of different work hats but I am proud to be here today as a Unison rep on my local government pension scheme (LGPS) committee for the past 20 years or so.

I was privileged to talk to this AGM some years ago about the many advantages of joining the LGPS. I now want to speak to you today about a possible threat to your pension and that of your families and friends.

It is complicated but maybe it is best if I outline what I believe to be the problem and what I think is the solution, then throw it open to the Q&A.

Firstly, let us never forget that Pensions are a fundamental trade union issue. In fact one of the founder unions that went to form UNISON was set up specifically to argue for pensions for its members. A former manager of West Ham Council trams was instrumental in setting up that union and the LGPS.

In my grown up job as a housing officer in the East End of London, I see first hand the miserable and degrading poverty that so many of our elders live in. Too frightened to put the heating on in winter, surviving on cheap out of date foodstuffs, too poor to buy their grandchildren treats.

In many ways, the current pension future facing workers is now even worse. Millions of workers in our sector have no access to any employer pension, since they work part time or are paid too little. Millions more are being cheated by their employer with tiny and inadequate contributions. While complete untruths are said about the sustainability of defined benefit schemes such as Local Government Pension scheme and other public sector schemes.

To top it all, this Tory led government, will from next month April 6, allow thieves and con merchants to steal and feast upon our members pensions, in what I have no doubt will be the greatest ever miss-selling scandal.

From April 6 this year, this Conservative led government is about to play a huge trick on ordinary working people. People who have skimped and saved over the years to put money by for their futures. This money is being deliberately put at risk and the only ones to benefit will be the City crooks that finance the Conservative Party, as they rob our members over the age of 55 of their money and that of their spouses.

Remember the Tories hate anything that is collective, they don't want pension boards or independent trustees looking after their members money and making sure that it is safe. They would rather dismantle our person schemes and hand them over directly to big business to profit from.

Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, calls April 6 "pension freedom day". Colleagues, this is not freedom, it is an occupation, an occupation by those who see you as easy pickings; an occupation that will destroy lives and end up with many of our members retiring into and dying in poverty.

Our members in the Local Government Pension Scheme and other funded Pension schemes will be targeted by armies of thieves, spivs and charlatans, as they did under Thatcher, when millions of people were told to buy personal pensions and sell their company schemes.

Those of you here who have pension money invested in stakeholders or auto enrolment schemes will also be targeted by those wanting to steal your futures as well. Even worse, last week during the budget, the Tories announced that pensioners who have already taken out private pensions will also be able to cash them in. At the cost of a tax liability and even more rip off charges.

We must as a union save our pensions and save our members from having them stolen from them and exchanged for snake oil.

We have a responsibility to make sure that our pensions are safe. As I said before one of the reasons for forming unions was for decent secure retirements and nothing has changed since, so we must do whatever is necessary to defend our members and defend their pensions. Thank you".

(picture Newham UNISON Chair Gloria Hanson, regional officer Dan Peppiat and area organiser Sally Tsoukaris - by coincidence today there was a feature on crooks planning to fleece pensioners)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Stratford, Finchley & Ilford Labour Campaign Day and the more people see of Ed Miliband - the more they like him

Saturday was a busy campaigning day. In the morning I went to the Sarah Sackman's headquarters in Finchley & Golders Green, to help deliver leaflets on behalf of "trade unions together" (TULO). This was a really well organised office with a friendly but competent briefing and no hanging around. Recommended.

By coincidence there was a large group of activists from Tower Hamlets there led by PPC Rushanara Ali and Labour Council leader, Rachel Saunders.

In the meanwhile I missed the Stratford High Street Labour stall (see above top) organised by West Ham Labour PPC Lyn Brown and Chair, Charlene McLean.

In the afternoon West Ham Labour were out campaigning for Wes Streeting in Ilford North with PPC Mike Gapes from Ilford South. Afterwards, we all agreed that we had the best canvassing responses  we had ever seen while in Ilford North and that we had some really positive feed back about how well Ed Miliband had done in the TV Q&A with Cameron the day before.

Is this a coincidence or is it that the more people see of Ed the more they like him? I think not.

"Broken Commitments, Vulnerable Workers" - Union busting by National Express continues

On Tuesday morning I attended  another presentation by US transport union, the Teamsters, to pension funds on the anti-union practises by a National Express owned US company called Durham which runs schools buses.

The Chair of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), Cllr Kieran Quinn, opened the meeting and made it clear that while he has a union background, as an investor he has concerns about the financial prospects of a company, that appears not to treat its workforce properly nor provide a safe environment for school children. He has had a number of meetings in the past with National Express where he has been told that the unions have exaggerated the problem. However, when he has asked for proof of this they have never produced this information.  

Teamsters spokesperson, Louis Malizia, was even more blunt. The "poisonous" and "unsustainable"  anti-worker and unsafe business practises will put the company at risk. He described the union busting and black-listing activities condoned by National Express. How union activists are victimised for reporting safety issues and the company continues to ignore decisions in favour of the union by the US courts. The company is now facing a backlash over civil rights and is losing contracts.

The final two speakers were two British Members of Parliament, Ian Lavery, MP, and Jim Sheridan, MP, who had both gone over to the US on a fact finding visit. During this visit they spoke at community meetings, met school bus drivers and were interviewed by US press and television stations. They were also thrown out of a local bus depot run by Durham when they tried to visit.

Jim Sheridan, MP, asked why doesn't National Express operate in the same way in the US as in the UK where they have usually good relations with the unions? Why are they treating children's safety differently? Why are they putting profits above safety? This is not some sort of "Communist plot" but about safety. No-one wants "revolution" they want a "resolution". Other bus companies in the US recognise trade unions, run safe services and make money without exploiting people.

Ian Lavery, MP, spoke about the unacceptable and unsafe US school bus services that would just not be tolerated in the UK. The bus drivers are poorly paid but do a very responsible job. He is a former Pension trustee and understands the need to make money to pay for pensions but there has to be a social conscience. Ian introduced a report that he and Jim wrote about their visit that they are just about to publish called "Broken Commitments, Vulnerable Workers".

In the Q&A I made the point that not exploiting people is not just about having a social conscience it is also a good investment choice. Research shows that long term investors such as pension funds get better returns from investing in companies that have good governance and do not for example treat their workers badly. Also, why doesn't National Express engage with its shareholders such as LAPFF? What else are they hiding?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thank you, Good luck and Goodbye - to a Workers Champion

Picture from last night's leaving dinner for my branch outreach worker, Andy Robertson (2nd on

Andy is a former UNISON Housing activist in Leeds who left to become a mature student at university to study a HR (Human Relations - what we use to call "Personnel") degree.

He passed with first class honours.

He has worked for the branch for the last 9 months on a temporary basis while we are restructuring the branch office. Andy is leaving to work with the Baptist Church in Wyoming, United States of America.

Andy is from the Christian Socialist tradition of the Labour Movement and as well as being a trade unionist is a part time Baptist preacher. It was great to meet his lovely wife who is a HR officer! They must have some interesting conversations about "how was work today?".

He will be working for the Labour Party as an organiser in the run up to the General election, which meant that his leaving do had to be brought forward to Friday at the last minute.

Many thanks to Andy for all his hard work during the past 9 months. During his time he helped build an effective steward structure in a number of key employers as well as some stunning successes  while representing members in disputes and hearings.


Before you go to bed tonight remember to change your clock according to your political values...

Labour Campaign Launch at Olympic Park

Yesterday morning Labour Leader Ed Miliband launched the Party campaign at the top of the Orbit.

Ed is pictured in the collage (top left) shaking the tiny hand of Juniper, baby daughter of Newham Councillor, Farah Nazeer.

UNISON Assistant General Secretary, Liz Snapes,  was also there.

Waiting outside for Ed to appear there was definitely an air of excitement amongst supporters. The 4 tory yobs who dressed up as SNP supporters arrived to late to shove anyone.  I hadn't applied for a ticket and so went for a swim in the Aquatic centre next door.

Friday, March 27, 2015

East Ham and Ilford North Election fund raiser

After the Stratford By Election candidate selection and West Ham Labour General Committee some of us went to support this fund raiser.

It took place in the Royal Regency in Manor Park. Which is a magnificent former cinema restored as a plush function venue.

We missed the speeches but met up with our MP Lyn Brown and East Ham MP Stephen Timms. Seen in picture with former MP Sarah Mccarthy_Fry, Redbridge Councillor Shelia Bain and the newly elected West Ham delegate to Labour Party Conference (and PCS activist) Anamul Islam.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Charlene McLean officially selected unanimously to fight the Stratford & Newtown by election

This is great news. Tonight local new Mum Charlene McLean was selected by Stratford and New town Labour Party ward to be their candidate in the forthcoming by election.

This will take place at the same day as the general election.

I was the procedural secretary for the meeting and saw the ward unanimously select her.

Following the announcement of the decision there was an emotional ovation by members for Charlene.

(picture of Charlene in Stratford supporting the 2012 TUC March)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

UNISON Special Local Government Conference 2015

I am not a member of the Local Government Service Group anymore (even though my pay and conditions like many UNISON Community members are still determined by the National Joint Council) so I was not there yesterday and don't know how accurate this UNISON Active post is but it has a ring of truth about it.

I may not agree with every comment it makes but would agree that it is far, far better than the self seeking, pompous and nonsensical accounts by the Evil Ones' - Goblin in Chief.

BTW - did the conference total cost the union £250,000 or £750,000?