Sunday, July 31, 2011

Maldon and Blackwater estuary walk

Off message but I am back from a great Sunday walk in deepest Essex.  This was a 9 mile canal and estuary Pathfinder "Essex Walks" hike (No. 25).

It's been a lovely warm and sunny summer walk but this would also be good during a cold crisp winter day. 

There is a wide variety of town, countryside, river, canal and estuary walking.

Anglo-Saxon Maldon is always well worth a visit, while the sight of the majestic Thames River barges afloat always stirs the heart.  Pictures on Facebook here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

TUC Pension Trustee Newsletter

 The latest edition of the TUC Member Trustee News is now out (Spring came late this year). 

"The TUC Member Trustee Network is here to provide support to trustees to enable them to carry out their duties professionally and effectively. Through the Network you can receive regular updates on regulatory and investment issues, a quarterly newsletter, access to training and conferences, and the opportunity to meet and talk with fellow member trustees at other funds. The Network currently covers 1,000 participants.
The TUC encourages all trade union member trustees to participate in the Network. If you are a member but your fellow member trustees are not, please encourage them to [join] too".

A PDF version can be seen here

Friday, July 29, 2011

GOTCHA! and News International Wapping - 25 Years On

I could not resist taking this photo of a poster for the latest version of Private Eye.

By coincidence the TUC is hosting a free exhibition on the "News International Wapping - 25 years on" Dispute.

The exhibition is being held in the ground floor lobby of Congress House until 12 August.  See further details here

I had a tour yesterday evening with UNISON London convener, Gloria Hanson. 

I will post the pictures on Facebook later.

Update: Pictures here

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fair Finance for those on benefits? "Typical APR 52.94%"

"Employed or receiving Benefits - Isn't it about time you got a fair deal". The other weekend I received this "flyer" through my letter box.  Double click on the scans left and right to bring up details.

At first I thought that this was just another form of Moneyshop or Payday 1330% APR con job targeting the poor and vulnerable.

I then had a proper look at the leaflet and saw that a typical APR of 52%.   Is this a "fair" interest rate.  Especially if you existed on benefits or low wages? 

Fair Finance is a Social enterprise which has some pretty respectable partners and backers. Their aim is to put "loan sharks and predatory lenders" out of business. Which is very laudable. 

Of course 52% is far, far less than the legal loan extortionists charge never mind the illegal loan sharks.  Yet I see that a local credit union offers similar (I admit that a credit union has a different set up) loans at only 19.6% APR.  Under Fair Finance you would pay £624 back on a £500 loan over 12 months while the credit union will only charge £567?  A big difference if you are on benefits or low pay? Should we not be backing credit unions?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Message to Breivik and his kind


I posted this last year.  It is quite apt. Apologies for the language if not the sentiment.

Southampton social care staff strike

Check out the latest in the Southampton City Council UNISON and Unite dispute over proposed 5% pay cuts for staff.  "Over 450 UNISON and Unite members working in social care are set to strike on Wednesday 3 August as part of the continuing industrial action against pay cuts.

The council had previously written to all staff informing them of their intention to sack them and rehire them on worse contracts.

City-wide action so far has seen waste and recycling workers, street cleaners, library workers, Itchen toll bridge collectors, parking enforcement officers, contact supervisors (social care), vehicle mechanics, port health officers and building maintenance workers go on strike.

Those on strike on Wednesday 3 August will be the whole of the safeguarding division and all of health and adult care apart from day services, home care, residential homes, meals on wheels and commissioning.

Action on 3 August will begin with a rally at 11am in Guildhall Square. This will be followed at 12noon by a meeting for all social work staff. There will be picket lines at Marland House, Oakhill House, Herbert Collins House, Thomas Lewis House, Cannon Street offices and College Keep. On 4 August the City Council will be given seven days notice of areas in social work who will be on strike for a longer period. A further strike of all social work staff is planned for later in August.

Strong support continues to be received by the branch from UNISON branches across the country. Regional manager Steve Brazier reported that the branch received a message of support and donation from the Shetland Islands UNISON branch as well as receiving an ongoing commitment from UNISON at a regional and national level to provide the financial resources needed to continue with the dispute. There will be a joint UNISON / Unite membership meeting on Wednesday 10 August at 12.30pm in Above Bar Church to decide the next steps in the campaign".  Hat tip UNISON press release.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hedge fund trimmer

SIP IT

A few weeks ago I went to a “pitch” for pension business by the Hedge fund arm of a large international finance company. It was a confident and well delivered presentation. The “only” problem was that the fund managers failed to even consider Pension fund “Statement of Investment Principles” (SIP). 

By law each pension fund has to have a SIP. Many SIP's requires fund managers to put their money only in “socially responsible investments”. This is not just “tree hugging” but based on an important principle that investments in companies that do not for example exploit child labour, damage the environment treat their workers badly or bribe and corrupt local officials will produce superior investment returns. Fund managers also have to engage with companies and vote their shares. They need to have an audit trail that can prove what they are doing. 

Your typical hedge fund does none of this. No disclosure, no transparency and little regulation. Even if they had the will (which I doubt) to act in a socially responsible manner they could not even begin to explain how they could confirm with a decent SIP. Never mind how they could claim that they confirm with UN PRI (which is even more prescriptive than many SIP’s).

So, employer and employee trustees and all other representatives on pension’s scheme check your SIP and see how it deals with Socially Responsible investment. If it is no good then try and change it. If it is any good then ask all your fund managers (and prospective ones) how they apply it. It they can’t or won’t engage then sack ‘em.

(PC as always)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Farewell to Crouch End UNISON Office (and former Victorian Railway station)

On Saturday morning I went with other volunteers to help our Branch staff move office.  UNISON Housing Association Branch (before UNISON it was NALGO) has been based at 83 Crouch End Hill,
Haringay, N8 for about 20 years.

It's now time to move out of our Victorian former railway station (we believe) to a more modern and accessible office right next to an open
London railway station.

The branch originally was part of the Greater London Council (GLC) NALGO branch. Moira, the current branch manager (2nd left in photo) was first employed by the branch as a part time worker when we only had 500 members and shared the Crouch End premises with Voluntary Organisations branch (VOB). The Housing Association branch (HAB) now has around 3500 members in 180 different employers mostly in Greater London.

The "Arts and crafts" fair flyer to the left is based on an original post card of Crouch End Station
viewed from Horney Lane.

We think the postcard dates from the Victorian or Edwardian era and the old branch office can be just seen to the left of the main (now long demolished) station building (double click to bring up detail).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

In Sorrow and Solidarity with the People of Norway

I have just watched a moving BBC news report live from Norway.  There was a church remembrance service in Oslo where the entire congregation (including the King and Queen) were in tears.  Outside the Church it was reported that Norwegians of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds were coming together in sorrow and in solidarity with each other.
 
They will not let a racist moron with a gun and a bomb destroy their social democracy, their belief in freedom, tolerance and respect. 

In the UK as well as showing our sorrow with those in the Norwegian Labour Party and its Youth League who lost family and friends, we can demostrate our solidarity here by joining the call by Hope not Hate to ban the proposed march by our own home grown racist morons (the EDL) in Tower Hamlets on September 3. 

Key moments from UNISON Labour Link forum


Key moments of Forum from UNISONTV.  My reports here and here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Got a Job? Now Join the Union

Picture is from a lunchtime UNISON Housing Association recruitment event held yesterday in Norwich.

The aim was not only to recruit more members but most importantly local Stewards and contacts.  Branch members had put up posters and sent out email "flyers" including an update on this year's pay offer and other employer specific issues.

We had a lot of interest, talked to people, gave out literature and had two volunteers to become UNISON Stewards (one newly recruited and one existing member).

The last UNISON recruitment event in Norwich that I took part in was with the (then) local Labour MP, Charles Clarke, on the "Importance of Joining a trade union".

I'm in picture with Eastern Region organisers Heather Cripps and Jon Hartley.  Picture taken by RO Brian Lynch.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Fellow American



I was first asked to post this video via an email from the US website http://myfellowamerican.us. sent by Elizabeth a couple of weeks ago.   To be honest I though it was just spam so I didn't really look at it.

Elizabeth then sent another (different) email which I also ignored. Finally, a third email made me have a quick look at the site, but I thought being a Brit blogger that whatever the video is, it wouldn't go down that well in the UK.

A 4th email said that I probably have a few US readers and "Any bit of help we can get in spreading the word, even if it is amongst 4 people, really means a lot and I do hope that if you liked the video, you would consider sharing it".

For whatever reasons over 20% of this blog's audience is apparently from the US.

So I finally had a proper look at the the video and now "get it". Have a look and if you like it please share. Thank you Elizabeth for being so persistent (and so American!) with me about such an important issue for both sides of the pond.

(warning: contains some pretty vile right wing "talk show" rants)

Update: I wonder if the hate mongers on talk radio who pander and stoke up  violence and rascim feel any responsibility whatever for the massacre of innocents in Norway? 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Alison Seabeck MP: Keynote speaker at UNISON HAB Labour Link 2011

 Shadow Labour Minister Alison Seabeck MP has agreed to be our keynote speaker at the Annual meeting of UNISON Housing Association Labour Link (APF).

This will take place on Wednesday 7 September 2011 at Committee room 5 in the House of Commons - 6pm to 8pm.

We are planning to have other political and UNISON speakers present and encourage members to contribute to the "Refounding Labour" debate, particularly of course on Housing issues. 

Finishing off with a Social in a local Westminster hostelry (venue tbc).

Last year we had a very successful event with then Labour Housing Minster, John Healey MP. 

This year branch members, particularly those in Care and Support are facing massive ideological cuts in services and unprecedented attacks on pensions, terms and conditions.  We must stop the rogue employers who are undercutting decent employers in order to win contracts that put vulnerable residents at risk of abuse. We must protect our residents and ourselves.  We have to campaign against Boris and Cameron and work for a Labour Mayor for London in 2012 and the return of a Labour Government. ASAP.

This meeting is open to all branch members who support the UNISON Labour Link political fund (over a 1,000 members in our branch alone).  This will be by invite and RSVP only.  I will be sending invites out soon but contact me now to reserve a place. (view my profile left)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

East Ham on Sea: Mayor's Newham Show 2011

Picture is of a beach complete with deck chairs, a paddling area and even free donkey rides for children.  In the middle of London.

Last weekend was the annual Mayor's Newham show in Central Park, which despite being very soggy at times was still successful with over 25000 people attending.

I was in a tent on both days for an hour or so with other Councillors talking to local residents about a wide variety of community issues. 
As well as the beach there was music, dancing, sports, live theatre, exhibitions, history, cabaret, arts, crafts, freshly cooked food and a fun fair.  Apparently the rain did encourage more people than ever to go inside the marques to have the free medical and health checks on offer.  So it is true - every cloud does have a silver lining.

TULO: Join our Fight to Save the NHS

Email From Unions Together: "Dear John Just yesterday, when the scrutinising eyes of the media were firmly fixed on the Murdochs’ evidence to Parliament, the Government made an announcement that shows their true colours on the NHS – the privatisation of £1 billion of NHS services. Starting in April, whole swathes of the services our NHS provides will be opened up to the private sector – including wheelchair provision for children.

We’ve heard a lot over recent months about Cameron and Clegg’s ‘reform’ of the NHS. Health professionals, patients’ organisations and the public united in their campaign to slam the breaks on the reforms.
Cameron and Clegg claim to have watered down their plans, but their NHS Bill is still a deadly threat to our National Health Service – and yesterday’s announcement proves it.

If Cameron and Clegg get their way, it will mean:
  • more privatisation and more companies making money from all parts of our health service
  • worse patient care including cuts, hospital closures and longer waiting times
  • more red tape making it harder for nurses, doctors and other health professionals to do their jobs
  • millions of pounds wasted on new bureaucracy which should be spent on patients
After the Summer break, these plans will come back to MPs in the House of Commons. Will you join our fight to stop them?

http://www.nhsalert.org.uk/joinourfight

Before the General Election, Cameron promised to “protect the NHS”, to “give the NHS a real rise in funding” and to “stop NHS reorganisations”.

But he’s breaking every single one of these promises.

After just one year of his Tory-led government, one in ten people are now waiting over 18 weeks to get into hospital for the treatment they need. And he is making it easier for private patients to jump the queue.

We have to work together if we are going to protect our NHS from Cameron and Clegg’s plans to destroy it. Will you join our campaign?

http://www.nhsalert.org.uk/joinourfight

It's our National Health Service - join our fight to save it.
Yours,
Helen

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

SPEW Trots Split from UNISON: Goodbye and Good Riddance


Happy, happy days for UNISON - Check SPEW Minitrue

Poor old Unite.  I did warn 'em

NB: See on link how the Counterfire expelled SWP trots are whinging to YouTube about "copyright" and censuring videos.

Update: I have been advised that the Red Army Choir YouTube above is the "revisionist" version of the Soviet National anthem and this here is the "proper" 1944 one.

Iain McNicol: New General Secretary of the Labour Party

Congratulations to Iain McNicol who has just been appointed as the new General Secretary of the Labour Party.

Iain is currently the National Political Officer of the GMB.  Check out this bio on Labourlist.

The picture above of Iain is from the LGA Labour Group Spring Conference when he spoke at a fringe "Representing our Roots" with Cllr Josie Channer (Barking & Dagenham) and Cllr Ann Lucas (Coventry) middle.

Iain gave a number of quotes during his presentation - I liked this one from former GMB and Labour Party leader JR Clynes “I didn’t come into politics to fight the class struggle I came to end it!”.

Monday, July 18, 2011

New Kindertransport Statue at London Liverpool Street

A few weeks ago now, I was rushing from the overground platforms in Liverpool station towards the  underground when I noticed that there was a new memorial to the Kindertransport Children (see right) next to the main ticket office. 

In the years before the Second World War nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany and Eastern Europe had been saved from the Nazi Holocaust by being sent by trains and ferries to Britain.  These trains were called the Kindertransport.

I have posted on this topic here, here and here.

Last week I noticed that there was a huddle of school children of a similar age and size to those portrayed in the memorial, gathered and sitting around it with suitcases.  They appeared to be on some sort of school trip and were waiting silently, tired and bored, for the next stage of their journey.  At the risk of appearing far too sentimental and over imaginative it did appear to me (briefly) as if the statues had come to life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

“They think it’s all over…it is NoW”


This post should have been entitled "Corporate Governance and News Corps" but I could not resist stealing this headline (from Guido - first time for everything in life). Mind you it was a pleasure this morning to go into my local newsagent and see no "News of the World" (NoW) for sale.

Is it just purely coincidental that NoW had a corporate culture that thought hacking into the phone accounts of murdered children and destroying evidence was acceptable journalistic practice when the parent company News Corps had been condemned time and time again for rotten internal governance?

PIRC sent out a report reminding members that News Corp was in the worse 5% of S&P 500 companies for governance. Not least for the connection between BSB Chair (and former CEO) James Mudock and his father.

If you have rotten governance you will have rotten practice. Why have investors (inc. Pension funds) allowed this to happen?

Update: check out the words of wisdom from Tom P here and his post on Myners here.

Ham Park Village Community Planting & Clean up Day

On Friday I went door knocking with our Council community engagement officer, volunteers and the  West Ham safer neighbourhood team (SNT) promoting this event.

There are two unused green spaces in the area which we hope to turn into mini gardens maintained by the local community.  There will also be a general "clean up" and we will be promoting a new Ham Park Village Residents Association.

On Friday I thought there was a really good reaction by local residents and hopefully there will be a good turn out.

Meet next Friday 22 July 2-5pm at corner of Hartland Road and Vicarage Lane E15.  Local schools will be finishing early that day for end of term. 

Unfortunately I have to go to Norwich on Friday so I am not sure if I will be back in time.

(double click picture to bring up detail)

Tories Terminating Our Pensions


Hat tip to Barnet Local Government UNISON for this YouTube video invite to a meeting next week they are holding on Pensions.   I would have also highlighted that the proposed changes risk destroying the scheme.  I suppose they didn't want to depress people too much.

The music is of course very apt.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

UNISON NEC

I will post another time on my thoughts and impressions of the first full UNISON National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings I attended last week. In the meanwhile you can read the UNISON news report here.

NEC Young member, Graham Smith, also has an excellent report on the antics of the “meaningless gesture politics of some individuals inside the meeting and outside”(hat tip UNISONactive).

There was indeed a small “lobby” outside UNISON Centre which initially I thought was a “Welcome John to the NEC” display by all my good friends and comrades in UNISON United Left. Instead it turns out it was about “please, please, please go on strike regardless of any reason so we can build the Revolution”. As Graham points out, the “lobby” was on the wrong day and before the wrong meeting but never mind. Most of those present were not UNISON members anyway.

The rude and disruptive behaviour at NEC toward our President and at sub-Committee meetings by a very small number of malcontents I thought was also just to make me feel at home.  It  reminded me very much of everyday life at UNISON London regional Council meetings.  However, the Sensible Left have things well in hand in the NEC. 

It should be an interesting two years.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fairness & Prosperity – Free TUC online seminar next Monday

"Join us on Touchstone blog on Monday for an online seminar on the international evidence linking equality in society with economic efficiency. We’ll be talking with Richard Wilkinson, internationally famous co-author of The Spirit Level, Kate Green MP, and Howard Reed, author of the new Touchstone report into the issue, ‘Fairness and Prosperity’, which is launched on Monday.

Monday 18 July 2011, 10.00 – 12.00.

We’ll be live-streaming the event, with the opportunity to add your comments and questions on-line via Twitter or email. You can take part on line by visiting us here on the blog from 10.00 on 18 July.
If you plan to take part, please let us know, by using the online registration form and we’ll send you a reminder just before the seminar is due to start".

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't Opt Out of any Pension Scheme!

I posted here on the campaign in the Local Government Pension scheme to stop staff "opting out".  Employers are worried about the number of staff who opt out of pensions already.  If the Tory plan for a proposed 50% rises in contributions and 50% reduction in benefits goes ahead then they fear this leakage will turn into a flood.  If large numbers of staff in all public services leave their pensions schemes then the schemes themselves will be in danger of collapse.  This will be at a real huge cost to the taxpayer.

The Opting out problem is not just a public sector worry.  Today I found out that in a "decent" direct contribution (DC) scheme run by a very large respected private employer, 80% of eligible staff were not in the pension scheme!  If employees pay into the scheme then the employer would double the contribution.  Employees are indeed throwing away money by not joining here as well.

The real scandal of pensions is in the private sector where employers have been allowed to walk away from their responsibilities.  It's complicated - but ordinary workers do not trust DC schemes and this is one of the reasons why they will not save in them.

At a pension meeting of the AMNT recently I said that 50% of the FT100 companies still had Final Salary pension scheme.  Unsurprisingly, no-one believed me.  I then qualified my statement by saying that these schemes were only for its senior executives and directors.  If it is good enough for them why don't they allow the same benefits for all their workers?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Steve Bell on David Cameron launching public services package

Hat tip Steve Bell

Community Service Group Seminar - Cardiff on 23-25 September

"The National Community Service Group Seminar will take place on Friday 23 September to Sunday 25 September 2011 in the Angel Hotel, Cardiff. The seminar should be of interest to UNISON activists in the Community service group, working for charities, housing associations, voluntary organisations, and so on.

Local Government and Health Branches are reminded they may have community members who will find this seminar interesting.

The seminar will provide a valuable opportunity to explore key developments within the community and voluntary sector, and it will provide an opportunity to network with others and compare workplace practices. The seminar will look at a variety of issues which are crucial to the sector. Among the guest speakers will be Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), who will give us his take on the impact of the cuts and the government’s ‘big society’ agenda on the voluntary sector; and Hazel Blears MP, who will talk about her view of how trade unions and the Labour Party should approach social enterprises and mutuals. We hope to hold sessions on the cuts, campaigning alongside community groups, pensions, dealing with TUPE transfers, personalisation of social care, and branch and regional approaches to organising".

Check out further details here

Monday, July 11, 2011

I am an innocent man...


Once upon a time, in the strange twilight LaLa world of Newham Toryland, there was an extremely unpleasant anonymous smear blog called Newhamtoryminitrue. Now, this horrid, horrid blog, apart from being typically Tory misogynic and homophobic, was also run by very incompetent Goblins called the cry-babies.

One night the cry-babies were up very late carrying out their evil works and were very, very tired. So tired and emotional, that they went to bed without remembering to back up their site properly. When they woke up the next morning, they realised that they had been really, really naughty and had lost for ever and ever a number of their very worse smear posts.

Fearing the wrath of their evil master, the skinhead Ogre, Big Bad Mikey, they pretended that some very wicked wizard called grayee had cast a magic spell on their blog and had set mystical “spammers to scrape IP addresses from our website and set up spiders to trawl it”!  Such was the power of this magical spell by grayee that they lost all their smear posts! Poor old Big Bad Mikey believes everything he is told and said to them not to worry. He will get his long lost cousin to write hundreds of mysterious letters to the local paper and FOI requests in pretend names exposing the wicked wizard grayee and all will be well.....  

(I think only 36 people in the entire world have a clue what I am going on about so apologies to everyone else.  Enjoy the video.  Great song.)

Newham Labour Party Members Summer Social 2011

Picture is from the close of yesterday's (Sunday) Newham Labour Party Social in Wanstead Flats.  There was a picnic as well as football, rounders and badminton competitions. 

I am still trying to recover from the rounders.  Our team won despite me being unable to hit the ball!  I had thought that I was fairly fit. The aches and pains I still feel prove otherwise. Drinking beer beforehand probably didn't help much either.

Stephen Timms MP,  Newham Mayor, Sir Robin Wales and around 55 Party members, children and friends turned up.  The world was put to right.  A good day. Enjoyed by all I think.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

UNISON National Labour Link Forum 2011: The Death & Rebirth of Public Housing

Yesterday at UNISON National Labour Link Forum    motion 11 "The Death & Rebirth of Public Housing" was passed.  This was similar to motion 54 that just failed to be reach the NDC agenda. This was my speech moving the motion (as amended).  Good result for Labour Housing Group.

"Chair, Forum, John Gray, Greater London Region moving motion 11. “The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing”.

Forum, I want to describe how this Tory led Government is intent on the destruction of public housing in this country and how we need instead to argue for its Rebirth. 

Firstly Forum, our Regional delegation accepts and supports all the helpful amendments. 

Forum, I don’t think many of you will be surprised at the content of this motion.  

It condemns the cuts in Housing benefit which attacks not only the unemployed, the elderly and disabled - but also the working poor.  

It points out that our members who provide front line housing services are horrified at being expected to deal with the resulting class cleansing of the poor from richer middle class areas.

It condemns this government for decimating new investment in public housing while millions have to endure overcrowding and substandard living conditions while languishing on never ending council waiting lists.

That new tenants and the homeless could lose the right to secure and permanent accommodation. While those who wait for years for a tenancy may find themselves paying near market rent for two years - after which they could find themselves evicted if they find a good job.  

In London currently the average rent for a 2 bed HA property is £102 per week. A so-called Tory affordable rent set at 80% of the market would be a staggering £2-4-8 per week. Every week!  

Forum, this motion does not only condemn the actions of this Tory led Government. It also agrees with what many of you have been saying in previous motions about how this attack on public services is ideologically motivated. This government has an ideological hatred of all collective provision and is therefore trying to kill off public housing.

To counter this attack we not only have to protest and campaign but we have counter the underlying neo-liberal and Orange book ideology. There is a Battle of Ideas in housing, that at this moment, progressives have not been winning. We need to win this Battle.  

UNISON Labour link and our members in the Labour Party need to play their part as well in the very same Battle within the Party to reclaim it as the Party of Public housing.

Forum, the only immediate way to begin to deal with our housing crisis is to reintroduce rent controls, to bring down rents in both the public and private sector to affordable levels. 

Next, such is the scale of the problem that there desperately needs to be a massive house building programme to house the 4.5million waiting for homes. Which will have the added benefits of getting the unemployed into work, giving them wages to support the local economy and paying tax rather than claiming the dole. We need to champion and explain these arguments. 

Let us look into the replacement of council tax with a continental style Land tax and let us debate such ideas as community land trusts. We need convincing arguments to persuade the public and indeed many of our own members that we should reverse the unhealthy British obsession with home ownership and disdain for renting. 

Forum, one important way of winning this battle of ideas is for UNISON Labour Link to affiliate to the Labour Housing Group, both nationally and regionally. UNISON is of course is the biggest union in public housing by far. So it is proper that we play a full part in the Labour Party Socialist Society for Housing. In London recently a regional branch of the LHG has been set up and has held successful events bringing together UNISON levy payers, Labour Party members, Cllrs, tenants, residents, practitioners and academics in a campaigning and policy alliance.  

Finally conference, let us always remember what will unite all of us. Decent housing is a basic and fundamental human right. We don’t believe that public housing is the “tenure of the last resort” nor the Tory libel that they are “barracks of the poor”.

Let us work for and call for victory in this Battle of Ideas with the Right - and for the next Labour government to give birth to a renaissance of public housing.  

Good quality homes, affordable, accountable and secure. And most importantly of all Forum, make sure this time, we build enough of them.

Forum, I move".

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Boris Johnson and his vile mates in the News of the World



"Over the last few days the horrible truth about the reality of what was going on at the News of the World has been exposed for all to see. There are few words that can describe the hacking of murder and terrorist victims as well as the families of those who died serving our country abroad. 

But I wanted to share a video with you today that I’ve just filmed. Last year Boris Johnson said that the phone hacking allegations were “a song and dance about nothing” and “politically motivated codswallop”. Click here to view

This morning when faced with the allegations he tried desperately to change his tune for
an immediate enquiry”. Yet in April, just three months ago, he made light of the whole thing, saying it is “embarrassing for any self-respecting celeb that they haven’t been hacked”. 

He has shown dire judgement. As Mayor, if he had taken a different approach when this story was first published the whole course of events could have been different. 

I’m asking Boris Johnson a series of questions on my website that I think he has to answer. Click here to view

If you agree please share on twitter and facebook using the hashtag #codswallop.

Best Wishes, Ken"

UNISON Labour Link National Forum:Day 2

Second day of Forum held this year at the Liverpool Marriot hotel. “A good time was had by all” the previous night at the traditional Labour Link Social.  For some reason a number of delegates were a little quiet and subdued.  Forum kicked off with more motions on future Labour Link policy and campaign priorities.  Yesterday we had debated and passed motions on The Economy; Spending cuts and the Black Community; ConDem attacks on public service workers; campaign for a Living Wage and a Robin Hood tax.  This morning we started with “Don’t CON-DEM young people; Pensions and Local Government Funding.
Next was the Labour Link Annual Report presented by Forum Chair, Steve Warwick.  Steve thought that Ed Miliband had a fantastic week around the News of the World scandal but when he goes knocking on doors canvassing for the Party people ask what Labour would do differently?  Labour has to be an opposition not just an alternative government in waiting. A party embedded in communities, leading the campaign and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
Cllr Roz Gladden, the deputy leader of Liverpool City Council was this morning’s keynote speaker.  Roz started by praising the trade union link with the Party, proudly proclaiming that it would not be worth supporting the Party without the link.  She always remembers that she was a trade unionist before she became a Party member.  Labour won back control of the Council because the people of Liverpool had began to trust Labour again.  Never again should we indulge in gesture politics that merely feed our ego. 

After a break we continued with more motions on Housing (which I moved); the role of retired members in Labour Link; Building our own Coalition against the Cuts; Turning out the Labour vote at elections; defending the NHS; Education cuts; strike ballots and Families against Corporate Killers.  Forum finished at 12.30 with formal thanks to the Labour Link staff for organising Forum and to the Hotel staff for looking after us so well.         
Picture of London delegation including Rae Voller who is standing down as National Vice Chair.

UPDATE: Check out Ian Wooler World account of Forum here

Durham Miners Gala

Great picture from today's Durham Miners Gala. Portrait on banner is of course the first ever Labour MP (for West Ham!) Keir Hardie. 

On left is trade union official and Labour NEC member Johanna Baxter. 

It is a shame that there is this clash with the UNISON Labour link Forum. 

Hopefully I will go to the Gala next year.

Hat tip Mike W.

Friday, July 08, 2011

UNISON Labour Link National Forum: Day 1

The UNISON Labour Link (APF) National Forum started today in Liverpool.  This is the annual meeting of the UNISON affiliated political fund.  UNISON members have a choice whether to pay a voluntary levy to the Labour Party or to a non-aligned General fund (or none).  Elected union lay representatives from all over the UK met to debate policies and campaigns, take part in workshops and meet Councillors, MPs and MEPs.  The first speaker welcoming us was newly elected Labour Liverpool Councillor Jake Morrison, who is a UNISON member and local hospital steward.  Jake is 18 and in May this year he was the youngest ever Liverpool Councillor defeating a former Liberal Council leader.
The keynote speaker was Ed Balls MP, the shadow chancellor.  Ed received a fairly tough reception due to his remarks and that of the Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, about the recent pension strike.  His argument that he was trying to stop the Tories blaming the unions for the poor performance of the economy was not accepted by the meeting.  Ed did argue passionately that he wanted a real partnership with the trade unions and the Labour Party based on our “shared commitment to social justice, equality and fairness”.
Next was UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis who reminded the forum that the former Labour Leadership were wrong to introduce the profit motive into the NHS and public services while at the same time not regulating the Banks.  Labour lost 5 million supporters between 1997 and 2010.  Most of them are “our people”.  Labour has to offer an alternative economic policy that will attract back these voters and it is the job of Labour Link to argue and campaign within the Party to help bring this about.
After lunch there was a series of workshops available on “influencing elected reps”; “campaigning with councillors and members” and “Refounding Labour”.  Followed by a meeting and Q&A with Arlene McCarthy MEP and Linda McAvan MEP.  The Tories and their right wing allies act even more appallingly in Europe than they do even here. Next was a serious and detailed debate over national issues with former UNISON official, Lillian Greenwood MP and Angela Eagle MP.  Amongst the topics discussed was Libya, trade union rights, arguments against the cuts and the book “The Spirit Level”. This was followed by more workshops before finishing at 5.30pm.

News of the World: Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

Last night's report that the News of the World is being closed down was welcomed by UNISON Labour Link members arriving in Liverpool for National Forum last night.

I doubt that anyone really believes that the management of this simply dreadful newspaper did not know what was going on.  Hacking into the phone's of murdered children and relatives of dead British soldiers.

I do wonder sometimes why we have so many comics pretending to newspapers and why they are mostly pro-Tories?  Surely their appeal to the lowest common denominator must be connected to their support for the Tories?

Picture Bitterwallet

UPDATE: just sent this message to my MP via 38 degrees.  Do the same here

"Hi Lyn

Find a way to stop the BSkyB deal; Ensure a public enquiry into hacking starts immediately and that it is led by a judge;

Ask Ofcom to investigate whether Murdoch is a fit and proper media owner".

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

An Evening with Ed Balls and Red Ken in honour of a British Revolution

Last night there was a London Labour Party fund raiser for the Ken Livingstone's Mayoral campaign 2012.  This took place at Planet Hollywood in the Haymarket, Central London and since it took place the day after 4 July, it had an obvious “Independence Day” (or rather the only ever successful “British” Revolution) theme

The restaurant was closed to the public but was packed out with Party members, supporters and the affiliated trade unions.  Everybody seemed determined to talk politics and have a good time. It is also opportunity to meet Party activists from across London.  People you might have come across while out campaigning during cold, wet winter by-elections or Facebook “Friends” you have only ever met "on-line".

Ken spoke first and gave his usual relaxed but polished speech evidently looking forward to taking on Boris next year.  He did seem to really enjoy the event and it appears from the obvious chemistry that he does get on with our future (fingers crossed) Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Ed’s speech  was rousing and he was mean auctioneer for the inevitable Labour Party auction. 

I won’t pretend that everything is always sweetness and light in the London Labour Party and the wider movement but last night was a success both in terms of raising money and showing a united front.  We must - repeat - must - get rid of the Tory Government Cuts stool pigeon in London next year and elect Ken as our Labour Mayor and all our GLA candidates.  This must be our absolute priority.
Picture of London UNISON Labour Link with Ed and Ken. I’ll post other pictures from the event on Facebook.

Monday, July 04, 2011

UNISON NDC 2011: Motion 54 The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing

This was to have been my speech to NDC moving our branch motion 54 but we ran out of time. 

"President, Conference, John Gray, Housing Association Branch, Greater London Region moving motion 54. The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing.

Conference, I want to describe how this Tory led Government is intent on the destruction of public housing in this country and how we need instead to argue for its Rebirth.
 
Firstly conference our branch delegation accepts and supports the NEC amendments to the motion. The Havering branch amendments we also accept, with one very important qualification which I will address later.

Conference, our branch has over 3500 members who all work in public housing in London and Southeast England. So I don’t think many of you will be surprised at the content of this motion.

It condemns the cuts in Housing benefit which attacks not only the unemployed, the elderly and disabled - but also the working poor.

It points out that our members who provide front line services are horrified at being expected to deal with the resulting class cleansing of the poor from richer middle class areas.

It condemns this government for decimating new investment in public housing while millions have endure overcrowding and substandard living conditions while languishing on never ending council waiting lists.

That new tenants and the homeless could lose the right to secure and permanent accommodation. While those who wait for years for a tenancy may find themselves paying near market rent for two years - after which they could find themselves evicted if they find a good job.

In London currently the average rent for a 2 bed HA property is £102 per week. A so-called Tory affordable rent set at 80% of the market would be a staggering £2-4-8 per week. Every week!

Conference, this motion does not only condemn the actions of this Tory led Government. It also agrees with what many of you have been saying this week about how this attack on public services is ideologically motivated. This government has an ideological hatred of collective provision and is therefore trying to kill off public housing.

To counter this ideological attack we not only have to protest and campaign but we have counter the underlying neo-liberal and Orange book ideology. There is a Battle of Ideas in housing, that at this moment, progressives have not been winning. We need to win this Battle.

UNISON Labour link and our members in the Labour Party need to play their part as well in the very same Battle within the Party to reclaim it as the Party of Public housing.

So let us look at the alternatives. Let us research the impact of reintroducing rent controls, let us look into the replacement of council tax with a continental style Land tax and let us debate such ideas as community land trusts. We need convincing arguments to persuade the public and indeed many of our own members that we should reverse the unhealthy British obsession with home ownership and disdain for renting.

Such is the scale of the problem that there desperately needs to be a massive house building programme which will have the added benefits of getting the unemployed into work, giving them wages to support the local economy and paying tax rather than claiming the dole. We need to champion and explain these arguments.

Now Conference, regarding the amendments put forward by Havering. Our branch delegation accepts these amendments with one very important qualification. One of their new points suggests that the best provision of social housing is that provided by local authorities.

Now, I am a passionate believer in local government and a defender and supporter of local authority housing. However, many thousands of members in the new Community Service Group work in social housing but have never worked for a local authority. The organisations they work for – long established housing charities, housing co-ops or other mutuals have never been under the control of the local authority and they have no interest in being so.

Many of these members will be very concerned that it is implied that their hard work can only be 2nd best. Now I think that this was never intended and just the result of poor drafting and I appreciate that this point was based upon previous conference policy. But this is something I think that the new Community Service Group will have to take up via the union structures and bring back to NDC. We cannot have 2 tiers of membership in our union.

Finally conference, let us go back to what will unite all of us. Decent housing is a basic and fundamental human right. We don’t believe that public housing is the “tenure of the last resort” nor the Tory libel that they are “barracks of the poor”.

Let us work for and call for victory in this Battle of Ideas with the Right - and for the next government to give birth to a renaissance of public housing.

Good quality homes, affordable, accountable and secure. And most importantly of all conference – make sure that we build enough of them.

Conference – I move".

(Picture Dan McCurry - A lovely shot. Dawn/Rebirth etc)

UNISON NDC 2011: "I move that the question be put"

These are the last couple of planned posts about UNISON NDC conference 2011.  I must mention the dreaded procedural motion 12.  This is when to move along conference business for whatever reason (or if you don't like the next prospective speaker) a delegate can sit in the in "point of order" chair and have the right to move that there is an immediate vote that "the question be put".  If this is passed then, save for a right of reply, the motion or amendment is put to the vote without further speakers. 

A number of delegates spend a great deal of time and trouble writing out speeches which are never delivered.  This year I was bumped off from speaking on Rule Change 6 and motion 65 by such points of order. 

It can be very frustrating but such is conference life.  The President can advise the conference that in their opinion there has been insufficient speakers heard, but usually conference gets bored with speeches and votes to close the debate.

I'll post next my speech on our branch motion 54 "The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing" which ran out of time to be debated (it was next on the agenda when conference closed). Ironically of course, if we had hurried up business on the Friday afternoon by moving the question be put we would have been able to debate this important motion.  "C'est la vie!"

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Elephant Insurance: Seriously rotten and completely rubbish car insurance

This is I admit a bit of a rant but not that off message.  Every day in our society, we come across the message again and again, about how efficient and well run the private sector is since it is by led by “profit” when compared with the supposedly “inefficient” and producer interest driven public sector. Why is this so?

When everyone I speak to on this subject has at least one horrendous horror story to tell of being ripped off by a private Bank, Insurance company or utility.  

My tail of woe with Elephant started last year when I (stupidly) took out a car insurance policy with them. I had maximum no claims bonus but within a few months my car had been written off after being rear ended while parked and then my new car was bashed into at work by contractors.  

The whole Claim experience was pretty dire and completely rubbish. Be warned!  Firstly the car replacement service that they were suppose to provide while I was waiting for things to be sorted out were just incompetent. Phone calls were never answered and my replacement cars turned up very late and whenever it suited them. They didn’t turn up to collect the car at the end either which meant that the claim for my excess was held up for months while solicitors argued about the car hire fees. No one in Elephant seemed to give a damn about what was happening. 

You felt you were totally by yourself. I made complaints and told several Elephant employees that I do not want anything to do with such an incompetent company in the future. They apologised and assured me that my contract will end. Despite this they then stole £731 from my credit card account for a new policy. I of course complained and they agreed to cancel my policy and refund my £731. Of course they didn’t do what they had promised to do and they ignored all my complaints. I had to get my credit card company to refund my account. End of matter?

No, don’t be silly. Elephant now ignore the emails that they sent accepting they will refund my account and took £355 out of my account for breach of contract??? Needless to say they did not warn me that they will be doing this nor did they send my any receipt for doing so.  

Now, I know that no company or service is perfect and mistakes can happen. But what interests me is what happens when things go wrong? Is there a will to acknowledge what has gone wrong and make amends? Or is this rotten service just deliberate since rubbish companies such as Elephant and parent company Admiral make money out of exploiting customers in such ways? 

Do the the senior executives of this Company make their obscene bonuses not from providing decent services to customers but from the practice of deliberately ripping people off?  I am forced to conclude that they do. So the next time you see some silly tabloid headline about public services, just remember how simply c**p private services can be. They don’t give a damn about their customers they only want to exploit their competitive advantage to fleece you. This is red raw Capitalism folks – don’t you just love it!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Local Government Pension Scheme: Don't Opt Out!

A campaign is being relaunched by Local Government employers. "Don't opt out of the Local Government
Pension Scheme".

Employers are as concerned as the unions that if the Government gets away with massive rises in pension
contributions then staff will just leave their schemes.

Who can afford to pay a 50% plus increase at a time of rising inflation, VAT increases and years of no pay rises? So many people could leave that this will just mean that the schemes do become unsustainable and will eventually collapse.

The full cost of looking after these pensioners will then fall on the taxpayer. This is just crazy economics.

Well done to the West Midlands Pension fund for producing these posters. I believe they have been running this campaign for a while, since already some staff "op out" since they think that they cannot afford to join - even at current contribution levels. 

If these new proposed increases go ahead then staff will just leave in droves. 

Friday, July 01, 2011

"Housing Voice" - for Affordable Housing in Britain

On Thursday I went to the Parliamentary launch of Housing Voice the Affordable Homes Alliance
in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons.

The meeting was hosted by it's Chair - Lord Whitty (2nd right). This cross Party campaign has been formed to raise awareness of the lack of affordable homes across the UK and the need for
urgent government action. Lord Whitty also spoke at last week's UNISON housing fringe.

David Orr, the Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, Shadow Housing Minister Alison Seabeck MP (speaking) , Alison Graham of Child Poverty Action Group, Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary, UNISON and Stephen Gilbert, the Liberal Democrat Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing spoke at the launch.

UNISON sponsored the launch and YouGov research which has showed that:-
  • 71% of the public do not think the Coalition Government is giving much attention to affordable housing
  • For those in private rented accommodation affordable housing is their biggest concern after the economy – 40% compared to 28% for health and 18% for education
  • Building more homes for rent would be a very popular policy with 70% support - including a majority of supporters of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or Labour
  • Given a list of possible policies, less than half (40%) supported the idea of increasing supply by moving people from their council or housing association homes once their incomes rise above a certain limit
  • A massive 18% - almost 1 in 5 – always or often struggle to pay their rent or mortgage
"The Housing Voice campaign aims to become a forum for ideas and a vehicle for action in order to build public awareness and push for urgent Government action to deliver more affordable housing"

So all good stuff. What I found interesting was:- Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert MP recognising that we have 250k new households per year but we are only building 125k new homes per year; Alison Seabeck MP thinks that there are votes to be won in planning but too many MPs think it will lose them votes.

David Orr pointed out that countries such as Finland and Norway plan to build 7 homes per 1,000 population to adequately house their people. This would have meant the equivalent of 420k new homes in the UK. We only built 100k last year - the smallest number since 1923 - when our population was half it is now.

Former Housing officer, now an Assistant General Sectary of UNISON, Roger McKenzie, reminded everyone that we we do live in one of the richest countries on the planet but if people do not have dignity, jobs and homes then life becomes intolerable.

Alison Graham of CPAG pointed out how can children who live in awful housing succeed in education if they smell of damp. (Which as a housing officer I know what she means) Toby Lloyd of Shelter was really pleased that at this launch that there was a wide spread of players and not the usual "housing suspects".
  
Finally, in the Q&A I mentioned that there seems to be a clear connection between countries cited in the debate who have good housing policies for all and are also those countries who are more successful because they are more equal. This would seem to support the arguments put forward in "The Spirit Level" book that societies that are more equal are simply better for everyone - rich and poor.

Update: forgot to add that Alison Seabeck MP had previously agreed to be a guest speaker at a UNISON Housing Association Branch Labour Link meeting, which we now hope will take place early September.