Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My year according to Google+


This is what Google+ thinks of my 2014. Sad that Gerry and Stuart as well as others are no longer with us but there was many good times as well. Highlights of the year for me was being re-elected as a Councillor in West Ham, visiting Ireland and completing the London Triathlon.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"Charity is a cold grey loveless thing..."

Well said Clem.  Remember there is a difference between rich people doling out charity to please their fancy or conscience and working people showing solidarity to others with their widow's mites.

UPDATE: its been pointed out this this quote is a mis-attribution. It was actually said by Attlee's biographer Frances Beckett summarising his views. This is the quote I think he was referring to - it still all makes sense to me.

 “In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice.”- The Social Worker 1920

TUC New Year message – 2015 must bring living standards boost as average wage fell £500 in 2014

"In her New Year message, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady reveals that the real value of the average full-time wage fell by £487 in 2014 (from new TUC analysis – full details below). This means that the average full-time employee wage has fallen in real terms by £2,509 since 2010 – about £50 a week".

Read the rest of this depressing but true press release here  - but Frances does point to a solution "

In 2015 we need a fresh start. Employers are beginning to recognise that a low wage economy is holding back growth. It is time to turn their words into action because businesses need customers with money in their pockets. Government, employers and unions must work together to promote wage led growth.

“This means increasing pay for those at the bottom with a higher minimum wage and spreading the living wage.

“But it also means better pay for those in the middle, and a real drive to create secure, skilled jobs on decent pay rather than relying on zero-hours, involuntary part-time work and low-paid self-employment to keep the jobless figures down. This needs active industrial policies that help create good jobs and investment in infrastructure we need to underpin success.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Election Address for Greater London UNISON Regional Finance Convenor


The Labour movement election season is about to start. My first election of 2015 will be for the UNISON London Regional council elections at our AGM in February.  I have at least a dozen possible contests, if not more, in the coming year for various trade union, party and pension positions. 

I will post further on the slate for the forces of light and reason in London UNISON. Below is my election statement. Please note reference to fighting union busting and anti human rights employers such as Ealing based Catalyst Housing Association.

"I am currently the Regional Finance Convenor, and firmly believe that strong management of our member’s money is the foundation to organising campaigns that deliver for our members. In the best of times this is true but now in the worst of times it is even more important than ever.

If re-elected as the Regional Finance Convenor I will continue to ensure that the member’s money is used to support branches focusing on real issues for real members such as:

•        Resisting the Tory Coalition Cuts

•        Defending the NHS and Pensions

•        Campaigning for directly provided services and to defend our public services

•        Recruitment & building branch organisation

•        Campaigning for equalities

•        Strengthening our influence in all areas but in particular Community & Voluntary, Education and in Private Contractors. Standing up to anti-trade union employers and union busters.

Open & transparent
Financial decisions need to be open and transparent and be easily understood by activists.  We have a  responsibility to our members to be diligent and ensure probity in our financial matters.
I want to make sure that activists better understand the financial support that is available to branches and ensure that the money gets to them to support recruitment and organising campaigns.

I am an experienced branch officer and regional activist for many years.  I am currently the Branch Secretary of the Housing Associations branch, member nominated representative on Pension panel and Chair of London Labour Link. I am also the elected National Executive Council member for Community. 

As part of the current lay leadership team, working in partnership with the regional office, we have had significant success in the past 9 years in strengthening our union in London by bringing greater unity, building participation across the differing service and self organised groups, and building a union to be proud of.  I hope to be re-elected to continue the work we have started. In these difficult and demanding times we need a team that can deliver.

If anyone wishes to discuss my statement with me they could email me at johndotgray2012ATbtinternet.com

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Today is ‘Let’s remember the Daily Mail supported Hitler’ day!

"It has been announced that December 28th is from now on to be the day when we should all remember that just prior to the Second World War, English newspaper the Daily Mail was actively supporting the Nazi dictator Hitler.....

The decision to have a special day to remind people that behind the Mail’s paper-thin facade of middle class respectability lurks a creepingly foul fascist cesspit has been in the pipeline for a while, but finally came to fruition following the paper’s story today about the Queen’s correspondence with former nutter and cannibal Idi Amin.

The Daily Mail sees fit to be critical of Queen Elizabeth’s official communications with Amin in the seventies, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a mere 40 years before they were themselves sucking at the bitter Aryan teat of the man who sent millions to the gas chambers.

In case anyone has forgotten, the Mail’s owner Lord Rothermere published a famous editorial titled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in the early thirties, and in 1934 flew to Germany to offer Hitler his support. Incredibly, this sort of thing is hardly ever mentioned in the Daily Mail these days.

Based on the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Daily Mail in just about everything it does, it seems appropriate to choose a special day when the paper’s previous support for fascism can be remembered, commented upon and widely used to annoy current readers.

It is expected that this day will henceforth be a festival of national celebration of tolerance, understanding and ridicule of shit journalism. Schoolchildren are to be encouraged to produce their own spoof newspapers attacking immigrants, gays and cancer, and there will be bunting.

In conclusion, please join with us, readers, in celebrating December 28th as “International the Daily Mail supported Hitler” day!"

British Foreign Policy in the Middle East - Newham Compass


Advance notice of the next Newham Compass event on Tuesday 17th February

"British Foreign Policy in the Middle East"

with Mike Gapes, MP for Ilford South.

I have a clash (my UNISON branch AGM) so will not be able to make it. Which is a shame not least since Mike is a former chair of the foreign affairs select committee.

I'll post more details when I get them.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Protect Our Pensions" - Tories latest attempt to destroy peoples futures

While driving today I listened to "Money Box" on Radio 4. The programme was about investing a windfall. Experts warned about all the financial rogues and con merchants out there who will rob people out of their money. It reminded of the motion below that my branch has sent to next year's UNISON London Regional Council AGM.

In a piece of blatant electioneering and extreme right wing ideology, Tory Chancellor George Osborne, is putting the retirement of millions in jeopardy. Unions have got to wake and warn our members about the threat to their futures.

"New Government provisions enabling pension fund members to cash in their pensions on retirement come into play from April 2015. These apply to all funded schemes – including the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

This Regional Council expresses deep concern regarding these proposals. Not only will members retiring be exposed to misguided enticement to cash in their hard earned savings early, thereby potentially jeopardising their future financial security – but a surfeit of members wishing to take advantage of these provisions could endanger the future stability of the scheme itself.

Regional Council is fully committed to ensuring our members get a fair deal in their retirement and supporting the LGPS. To this end we call on the NEC to organise a high profile member information campaign which explains the pros and cons of cashing in pension fund savings and where possible promotes the benefits of remaining in the LGPS once retired".

(This motion to be considered for NDC and if successful the wording to be changed according)

Friday, December 26, 2014

A walk to Deganwy Castle and our common history of savagery

This morning I went for a Boxing Day walk from Conwy to Deganwy Castle. Trying to work off some of the xmas excess and build an appetite for this evenings traditional cold meats, pickles and baked potatoes. 

I haven't been to the remains of Deganwy Castle before but was intrigued by this information board (below) on Conwy town walls.  To the left is what the site looks like now and below what it looked like before it was destroyed for a final time by the Welsh in 1263.

I started the walk at Conwy Quay then across the bridge and alongside the estuary until Deganwy village (passing the retirement home of the 5th officer of the Titanic). Crossed the railway line and then headed up hill until I come across a public footpath sign. Its fairly obvious which way to go. Just keep going up.

Little remains of the actual fortification but the bracing views from the top of both hills are superb. The site is also very evocative. Before its final destruction it had been a settlement and military base for around 1,000 years and been fiercely fought over many times. It had been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions.

An account of a war between the Welsh and invading English from 1254 mentions the savage fighting that took place. The decapitated heads of the Welsh were kept at the castle as trophies. While the Welsh as a reprisal tore apart the bodies of their English prisoners and threw their limbs into the Conwy Estuary. Below the castle is a field called Maesdu (Black Meadow). Accounts differ but there was a massacre of either Vikings or English which left so many dead that the field appeared black with blood and corpses. Stories like this remind me that we should not be too smug in the UK about the modern day barbarity in Syria and Iraq.

Walked back to Conwy in light rain and wind. Check out an excellent audio tour of the site here and this Youtube video

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas walk "In the Valley of the Elwy"

"Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
All the air things wear that build this world of Wales..." 
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Off message but today I went for a truly beautiful walk in the "Switzerland of North Wales" the Elwy Valley.

Walk 15 of Pathfinder guide "North Wales, Snowdon and Offa's Dyke" was only 5.5 miles but was pretty challenging in parts.

It was cold and windy with plenty of winter sunshine. Apart from some fell runners and their dogs we did not see a soul. I was born and bred in North Wales and cannot believe that I have not been walking here before. It was stunning.

There is even a West Ham connection since the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins whose poem "In the Valley of the Elwy" was born in Stratford.

Check out more pictures of walk on FaceBook

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Red Crimbo


This is my favourite Christmas video. I have stopped sending cards and instead have donated money to further world revolution (aka Children in Need).

Merry Crimbo to all my Labour Party and trade union comrades and here is hoping for a change of government next year.

Hat tip Stroppybird

Monday, December 22, 2014

Safety inspections are not optional – Governments should respect international law and protect workers (so should employers)

Hat tip TUC Risks. We need to stop our Government (and employers) ignoring international law and make them take responsibility for the safety of their workers.  UK Employees who work for anti-trade union employers such as Ealing based Catalyst Housing Association are in an even worse place, since if you work for an employer who refuses to recognise a trade union you don't have State or Safety rep workplace protection either.

"The UK government is breaking international rules requiring safety inspections of all workplaces, an International Labour Organisation (ILO) ruling indicates. In November, ILO issued is findings on a complaint by Dutch unions about their government’s failure to comply with a number of ILO conventions.

The unions believed cutbacks and reorganisation meant an effective inspectorate and related medical service no longer existed. Like the Netherlands, the UK has ratified and is required to abide by the ILO’s Labour Inspections convention. This states: “Workplaces shall be inspected as often and as thoroughly as is necessary to ensure the effective application of the relevant legal provisions”.

Other parts of the convention lay down requirements for inspectors’ independence, training, access to advice, and provision of local offices. The ILO ruled the Dutch government was breaching the convention’s requirements because of its failings on the number and frequency of inspections, the support provided for inspectors and the system for notification of occupational diseases. The ILO also stressed the importance of unannounced inspections, noting the provisions applied to “all workplaces, particularly in enterprises that are not considered to be in high-risk sectors and in small enterprises.”

According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson, the majority of UK workplaces are exempt from unannounced inspections and the Health and Safety Executive’s medical service has been decimated. He concluded “many of the arguments used by the Dutch trade unionists apply equally or even more so in the UK, where the Coalition government has slashed inspections, while at the same time reducing the number of HSE offices and level of support available. The Dutch government has been told to put their house in order. We will be asking the UK government to do the same.”

TUC Stronger Unions blog.

ILO Governing Body report, 6 November 2014.

ILO Labour Inspections Convention, No.81.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Christmas Carol by the High Court

Scene:
Any solicitor’s office in the country (except the Strand).
Solicitor:
So, Ms Peasant you have been sacked because you are pregnant and you have come in for a free interview.  Typical of your sort if I may say so.
Client: 
It’s so unfair.  I want to bring a claim.  You do no win no fee don’t you?
Solicitor: 
WE do. The State doesn’t.  Tribunal fees are £1,200.00 win or lose.
Client: 
I haven’t got that sort of money!  I am unemployed.  I’ve been sacked.
Solicitor: 
Come, come now.  I am an employment lawyer.  I know the minimum wage is £6.50 an hour.  Easy to remember; it is one hundredth of what I charge – 200 hours work and you have the fee, unless we need to appeal.  Cut out the foreign holidays. Sack the nanny – she won’t be able to afford the fee to sue you.  My little joke!
Client:  
My Mum looks after the children.  We only just got by when I was working.
Solicitor: 
There I can help you.  You need to prioritise your spending.  The High Court has said so.  Eat your existing children – Swift said that and he was a clever man, but you peasants don’t read you just watch Sky.
Client: 
We don’t have Sky.  Murdoch is nearly as right wing as the High Court.
Solicitor: 
Go down the library and read Swift.
Client: 
They’ve closed the library.
Solicitor:  
Have an abortion.  Save you money and I might be able to get your job back.
Client: 
I don’t want an abortion.  Anyway they’ve closed the clinic.
Solicitor:
Find a rich man.
Client: 
I am married.  My husband was sacked for complaining about my treatment at work.
Solicitor: 
Oh then he has a claim as well then.  Another £1,200.00 mind.
Client:  
I’ve had enough!
Solicitor: 
I advise on the law; I don’t make it.  I want to read to you what the High Court said:
“The question many potential claimants have to ask themselves is how to prioritise their spending; what priority should they give to paying fees in a possible legal claim as against many competing and pressing demands on their finances?”
It goes on a bit but basically do you want to bring a claim or eat and feed and clothe your children?
Client: 
But no-one should have to make that choice in Britain in 2014.
Solicitor:  
That’s where you are wrong.  The court said:
“The question is not whether it is difficult for someone to be able to pay – there must be many claimants in that position – it is whether it is virtually impossible and excessively difficult for them to do so”.
Client:  
That’s wicked.
Solicitor: 
That’s the High Court. Lord Justice Elias is paid £198,674.00 and Mr Justice Foskett £174,481.00 so they know all about having to count the pennies.
Client:
Surely Labour will change all this.
Solicitor: 
Nope.
Client:  
I think I will vote for the Fascists then.
Solicitor:
They tried that in Germany. Didn’t do them much good. Nice rallies mind.
Client leaves.  Solicitor hums the Horst Wessel.  There is a muffled explosion.  The local court is in ruins.

Hat tip Daniel Barnett and Kerry Underwood

(My lesson number one - if you are in work and want justice at work, join a Union  http://www.tuc.org.uk/about-tuc/union-finder)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Worried about paying your winter fuel bill? UNISON is "there for you"

I am very proud of  "There for you" (UNISON welfare) and the work it does for our members who are in financial hardship but we should never forget that often this hardship is caused by low pay, insecure employment and our rip off financial services.

"There for you" will allow our low paid members to apply for a one off fuel grant of £40.  To those of you on a decent wage, £40 may not seem a lot, but if you are on a poverty wage, it may make the difference for being cold or warm on winter nights for you and your kids.

It is shameful that we have such a ultra right wing economic system that relies on welfare to provide for the basic needs of those in work who provide public services.

Roll on May 7 2015. The only alternative to a Labour Government is another 5 years of Tories. The choice is clear.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cllr Peter Brayshaw

I was saddened to hear yesterday of the sudden death of Camden Councillor, Peter Brayshaw. Peter was Chair of Camden Pension Fund and a keen member of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF). I had spoken to him only a few  weeks ago at this years LAPFF Conference.

Peter was softly spoken, polite, intelligent, principled with great political values. 

The picture is from last year's LAPFF conference when Peter made a marvelous tribute regarding the life and times of Nelson Mandela and the role that UK Councils had played in bringing about the end of Apartheid. Peter had been a lifelong supporter of the liberation of Southern Africa and was currently vice chair of ACTSA.

In fact as a young student he spent 3 weeks in Brixton prison on remand for protesting against the white supremacist government in Rhodesia.

Check out tributes in local newspaper, Anti Apartheid and ACTSA.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Amazon-Free Challenge - Better Places to Shop


The Amazon-Free Challenge kicks off today, and over 12,000 have now signed up to ditch Amazon this Christmas! [1] It's not too late to join in too - you can add your name here. If you’re used to shopping at Amazon, we recognise it might be tough at first. Even if you’re an Amazon-Free veteran, it’s also hard to find the time to discover better options.

But it’s going to be ok! We’ve put together a quick guide for other places you could get your prezzies this Christmas:

Check out and share the 'Better than Amazon' Shopping guide here

With our friends at Ethical Consumer we’ve done some research and ranked retailers according to how they treat their workers, and whether they are likely to be dodging tax.

This is by no means an exhaustive list - but hopefully it’s enough to get your started, and give a flavour of what’s out there :). We’ve done our best to provide a mix of super ethical options and some big names that might be regarded as better than Amazon. In some cases, your best bet could be to use your local independent shops, or go for second hand options.

Today is ‘Cyber Monday’ - supposedly the biggest online shopping day of the year. Let’s use it instead to build a movement away from Amazon and companies who don’t play fair. Please check out the guide, and let us know if you have any other Amazon-Free favourites by commenting at the bottom of the page, or dropping us an email:

Get your Amazon-Free Shopping guide here

Love,

Amazon Anonymous x

[1] From the Guardian today: Amazon Christmas boycott campaign gathers weight

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cake - The banker, the tabloid reader & an immigrant

This is so, so true. There are a number of versions of this anecdote and this is one of best I have seen.

Hat tip Cleveland Watkiss via Facebook "The System In A Nut-shell.#2014".

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tom Petty - I Won't Back Down

Today I was driving solo back to London from a difficult but I think constructive hearing in Cambridge and I heard this record for the first time in years on "Absolute Radio 1980s". Turn volume up to maximum and sing-a-long time. This is a fantastic song for all trade unionists.  Check out this soulful and very different Johnny Cash YouTube video rendition.

update: and Eddie Vedder version

UNION BUSTING BY UK PUBLIC SERVICES PROVIDERS


The motion below on Union Busting has been sent to by UNISON Housing Association branch to next year's Greater London Regional Council AGM in February 2015. If it is passed it will also be considered as a regional motion for the National Delegate Conference (NDC) in June.

A similar motion will be debated at the National UNISON Community AGM in March 2015.

Labour Party branches will also be asked to consider a motion for the Party Conference and to make a submission to the next National Policy forum.

Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and Shadow Cabinet members will be sent this motion and background details asking for support.

I hope in particular that the Board of Catalyst Housing Associations are made fully aware of the legal, human rights, reputational and other risks of allowing Union Busting to take place. 

UNION BUSTING BY UK PUBLIC SERVICES PROVIDERS

This Regional Council notes:-

That a number of Housing associations, Charities and private employers who provide public services are openly hostile to trade unions, carry out American style anti union practices and refuse to recognise trade unions.

The right of free assembly and collective bargaining is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law. Any failure by any employer to honour these rights with regard to trade unions means they do not respect human rights.

We note that “not for profit” or “third sector” employers are normally registered charities and should share a social ethos with regard to good governance and respecting human rights.

Public Service Providers who do not treat their staff with respect or dignity will not treat their clients or residents with respect either.

Replacing free and democratic trade unions with internal “staff associations” is historically a central plank of the philosophy called “Corporatism” which has direct links with far right political groups in the UK and abroad.

All public service employers are dependent on public procurement and funding, direct or indirect.  While at the same time many pay their senior managers huge amounts of money.

Many supporters of national charities would be horrified to find out that these charities refuse to recognise or engage with independent trade unions.

There is a huge reputational and financial risk to employers who engage in such anti-trade union busting.

This Regional council calls on Regional Council Officers to:-

Actively support and help campaign against union busting by Public Service providers.

Draw up a campaign plan on how to organise in Public Service Providers that we do not currently have trade union recognition.

Call upon National Labour Link to examine whether local Councils and a future Labour Government should debar any Public Service Provider that does not recognise trade unions from access to public funding or procurement.

Call upon the Government to hold an independent public enquiry into the governance and democratic deficit of employers who provide public services.

(This motion to be considered for NDC and if successful the wording to be changed according)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Class Action and stopping the endless drip, drip of corporate fraud

A very good article by lawyer Katherine Dandy  on Class Actions in Pension Insight. I have added this comment to the on-line site.

"You make a lot of sense Katherine. There is also a wider governance point that trustees should consider.

It is not only a duty for them to recover such losses if possible but also as owners we have a responsibly to "punish" directors and companies who undertake fraud or such negligent behaviour in order to improve overall corporate governance standards.

Most class action claims are also settled by insurers so it should not necessarily damage a company you still have shares in.  More class actions will also increase pressure on insurance companies to insist on better governance standards to reduce their risk.

Directors who behave in such ways should be held personally liable. Next to more effective criminal regulatory powers this is the best way to stop the seemingly never ending drip, drip of corporate fraud and negligence cases.

(it seems that Pension Insight  haven't published my comment? So I have just tried again).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Newsletters and Christmas Cards for Ilford North

This afternoon West Hammers went to Ilford North to help deliver a Labour newsletter and Christmas cards from local candidate Wes Streeting. 

In the newsletter there is a picture of Wes from 2010 when he was President of the National Union of Students with the current Tory MP for Ilford North, Lee Scott. It showed Lee has pledged to vote against any increase in tuition fees for students in the next Parliament.

Yet when he was re-elected Lee refused to vote against it and just didn't turn up for the debate. As a result students are now paying £9,000 per year.

By coincidence Wes is now standing against Lee Scott. Wes says "If MPs like Lee Scott kept their promises, students wouldn't be saddled with record levels of debt. This is one of the reasons why people don't trust politicians anymore"

The weather was dry, sunny but cold. We were kept warm walking up and delivering to both sides of  Tomswood Hill and side streets.

West Ham CLP has been twinned with Ilford North for the General Election. UNISON London Labour Link has also been tasked with helping the local party.

To get rid of Cameron and form a Labour government we have to win our marginal seats.

the poorest pay 47% of their income in tax (the richest pay 34%)

Check out post at TUC Touchstone: "Saving Our Safety Net Fact of the Week: the poorest pay 47% of their income in tax (the richest pay 34%).

Why should the poorest pay the most and don't let the Daily Mail continue to confuse income tax with all taxes and National insurance.

Note: taxes as a proportion of gross incomes

Friday, December 12, 2014

UNISON LGPS Seminar 2014 - Time to govern YOUR money!

This was my welcome speech to the 120 UNISON representatives who attended our National Local Government Pension Scheme seminar.

I chaired the meeting but stole most of this intro from the speech that our President, Lucia McKeever, was due to deliver. Lucia was unwell today and could not attend. I will post further on what turned out to be an excellent seminar.

"Good morning everyone

And welcome to UNISON centre – my name is John Gray and I will be chairing this seminar today. I am a member nominated representative on the Local Government Pension scheme and a UNISON NEC employer trustee on our staff pension scheme.

I know some of you have travelled a long way today

We appreciate your commitment – wherever you have come from and whatever branch or service group you represent

There is a lot to get through today – so I will be brief

One of the outstanding achievements of the trade union movement are the negotiation and creation of pension schemes and pension funds.....to live a decent life after retirement is what we all deserve

As a long standing LGPS rep I understand our own scheme and as a trustee of the UNISON staff pension fund I have a good grounding and understanding of the importance of good governance, good investment returns and effective management of the assets we hold in trust for our employees

I believe the role of a pension board member is challenging and exciting – it is one of the most important jobs a trade unionist can take up – looking after the savings of others

It is natural ground for us – to be inquisitive, to question, to probe and find out – to ensure the members get the deal they expect and hopefully more

Today this seminar is about preparing you for the role of LGPS board members – to take you through the key issues your officers and NEC members have been negotiating on your behalf

It has been a long journey to gain the right for you to sit on the LGPS board decision making process – back in 2003 local government conference motion requested the union campaign for your rights to govern your money – I am proud to say we are nearly there

We have had to strike and negotiate to win this opportunity – let’s not throw it away

By April 2015 every LGPS fund in the UK must have a board – with equal numbers of scheme member and scheme employer reps

We have put in place the resources to help you achieve that – every region has a project plan that is co-ordinated at the centre – we have training and in the New Year we will launch web based resources for you all

The key message I bring to you today is this – it cannot happen unless you and your branch and your region are prepared – after today we need to step up our efforts to ensure that every board has UNISON representatives – to ensure that scheme members are for the first time – represented at the table.....

This is an historic opportunity – there is £200 billion worth of assets to oversee – there are millions of scheme members and pensioners that need your skills and judgement to represent them....

I can do it - You can do it – we can do it together.....

Make sure you ask questions and participate – this day is for you...enjoy it"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A cooperative approach to public services




Hat tip Co-operative Councillors newsletter. "This short animation outlines a vision for a new approach to engaging with communities and delivering services to meet their needs and aspirations. It calls attention to the limitations of top-down, Whitehall-driven public services and highlights the value of a co-operative council model which is able to draw on local networks, resources and intelligence".

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

International Human Rights Day

"The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

This year’s slogan, Human Rights 365, encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day.

It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values".

The Ten Principles

The UN Global Compact's ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption enjoy universal consensus and are derived from:
The UN Global Compact asks companies to embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption:

Human Rights
  • Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
  • Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.  
Labour
  • Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
  • Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
  • Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. 
     
Environment
  • Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
  • Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
  • Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.   
Anti-Corruption
  • Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

Cllr Seyi Akiwowo speech on diversity & heritage to Newham Council

Thank you Chair and good evening to my fellow Councillors and the Mayor.

To be elected to this Council as a Labour representative and stand here speaking in this chamber is a great honour. To be elected as the first young black woman by the residents of Forest Gate North, the ward where I grew up is also a very personal honour.

For my Maiden speech I would like to draw members’ attention to the recent anniversary which spanned across a month with celebrations and educational activities galvanising many members from different communities including those from Newham. I’d like to also remind members of the importance of celebrating our diversity and shared heritage in Newham.

October 2014 marked the 27th UK Black History Month - a significant milestone in the progress towards achieving racial equality in this country.

Seizing the opportunity to discuss Black and world history and honouring the too-often neglected accomplishments of black communities is what inspired me as a young Black female growing up in Newham.

It is this that has helped me forge my own strong British Nigerian identity - and has provided the grounding, knowledge and confidence to stand here this evening talking to you all.

Living in Newham means we have luxury of not having to travel the whole world to learn different communities’ heritage we do this every single day. Whether this is taking part in an Iftar, celebrating the birth of Jesus at a local church, enjoying a delicious Jerk Chicken and rice and peas meal at Stratford Theatre Royal, shopping in Green Street, or visiting the beautiful Hindu temples in East Ham.

Newham has the highest proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic residents of all the London Boroughs from ALL parts of the globe. What an opportunity and advantage this gives Newham in this 21st century!

And there are so many talented, pioneering black people living or who have lived in Newham that have gone on to achieve fantastic things including black actors Idris Elba from Canning Town and Chiwetel Ejiorfor from my Community Neighbourhood Forest Gate. Black British Athlete Christine Ohuruogu MBE, Black Rapper Kano and Mr Benjamin Zephaniah one of my favourite English writers.  I remember reading Refugee boy in my English class at Sarah Bonnell and couldn't believe he was living in Newham!

The thing that makes me really proud of Newham is its offer to all people to learn from the rich tapestry that is our diverse community Newham Heritage week. I think is fantastic and believe it is important for residents to have opportunity to not only learn about their history but about the history of other communities as well.

Moving forward I strongly believe it is important to build on Newham Hertiage week. My ambition is to ensure that IN Newham, BHM and Newham Heritage Week becomes an explicit, whole community focal point, especially at a time when the deceitful UKIP's rhetoric on immigration is becoming so divisive.

I feel it is even more important for us as local politicians to promote and maintain community relations through discussions on diversity and culture and their significant contributions to
our shared Newham heritage, our future and our society in many many enriching ways.

It is apt that the Borough's Coat of Arms proclaims "Progress with the People" - and for me this underpins our Community Resilience agenda, as it recognises that our strength comes from those around us and the community we belong to.

By understanding each other’s heritage we break down barriers and help combat isolation and marginalisation thus promoting a sense of shared identity and place.

And I would therefore like the Council to join me in committing ourselves over the next four years to continue to instill this dimension of Community resilience in all our community neighbourhoods.

To encourage our libraries, key stakeholders, schools and each other to celebrate and be proud of all of Newham's diverse heritage not just in specific months but throughout the entire year".

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Upshire Walk & Site of Boadicea End Game?

Off message but went for a great country walk on Sunday around Upshire in Essex.

Check out the free Essex Walks website.

I thought that I knew the area quite well but this 5.5 mile walk was different and apart from the distant buzz of the M25  (and crossing the motorway), it was very quiet and we hardly saw anyone until the end of the walk.

Near the start is "Boadicea obelisk" which you can see in photo on right (in between are deer running away from us). Which is probably just an 18th century folly but local tradition says it marks the site of the suicide of the Iceni Queen Boadicea following the defeat of her army nearby by the Romans.

You can walk over a broken barbed wire fence and visit (trespass?) the obelisk but there is nothing written on it. It is strange place and I found it very atmospheric. Who really knows what happened here?

The rest of the walk was lovely with lots more history and going up and down hills with great views but nothing too strenuous. The final bit, cross country in Epping Forest proper was another highlight. This is a recommended walk only 25 minutes by car from Newham, London.

More pictures on Facebook

Monday, December 08, 2014

"You Cannot Pick & Mix Which Human Rights to Respect" National Express LAPFF14

The President of the USA Teamsters Union, James Hoffa, sent a video message to the LAPFF conference to thank them for our support in their campaign to stop the North American arm of British company National Express's union busting.

Teamster Louis Malizia then explained to the conference more about the low pay & exploitation by National Express of school bus drivers as part of an "International Activism" debate.

He pointed out the reputational risk to the company from such behaviour and the considerable USA litigation risks from commonplace breaches of Labour law and health & safety legislation.

In the Q&A I made a contribution that there are Ten United Nations Universal Principles of Human Rights. Responsible investors have to respect all Human Rights and this includes Principle 3 regarding trade unions - "Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining".

My point is that you cannot "pick and mix" which particular Human Rights you want to uphold. You have to uphold all of them equally. I hope that National Express and other rogue employers such as the Board of UK Catalysis Housing Association, will understand that if they do not uphold all human rights - then they run the obvious risk that they will be accused of not respecting human rights.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Cherie Blair CBE QC "how better business practice can drive both market & social returns" LAPFF14

Picture of Guest Speaker at LAPFF conference, Cherie Blair, with the youngest member of the Newham Council Pension Committee (and possibly in the entire UK?) Cllr Seyi Akiwowo.

Cherie spoke about how when she started to practise law, human rights was not on the agenda especially for pensions. A common view at the time was that of the economist, Milton Friedman, that the only job of business was to maximise profit.

Nowadays most retail shoppers surveyed say that business ethnics matters but will they remember this during a Black Friday wrestle?

Socially responsibly investment is not a drag on company performance but improves it. According to the FT only 50% of companies currently comply to the Code of Practice.

Pension funds are holding the keys to capital, you can demand good business practises. You can help bring about change in the world - in the here & now. Issues such as child trafficking are not just for the  Police & Governments but also for pensions funds.

Those who are sceptical of this should remember the German philosopher, Schopenhauer's, three stages of truth "First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident".

Cherie also referred to the glass ceiling of women on Company boards. Research shows that most board appointment are made are the basis that "they know the company Chairman". Diverse boards result in better financial returns

Cllr Akiwowo asked Cherie on behalf of young people "How do we make pensions more sexy and make all aspects of diversity important? While Newham's elder Pension statesman, former Chair of LAPFF, John Saunders, also asked her a question relating to her work for the Kazakhstan government. Both questions were smoothly and calmly answered by her.

She agreed with Cllr Akiwowo that we need to educate young people about pensions and make pensions more relevant to all.  Also in response to John, that you cannot live in an  "ivory tower" and must be prepared to do the right thing even in a different and difficult environment.

Engagement Panel at LAPFF14

The next item at the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) conference was a panel on  "engagement" with Cllr Kieran Quinn GMPF, Chair Sir Merrick Cockell, Cllr Richard Greening LBI and Cllr Cameron Rose LPF.

Investor engagement is probably one of the most significant things that LAPFF does on behalf of its members. "By bringing local authority funds together to work collectively, the Forum is able to maximise their influence" .

Cllr Quinn started by pointing out how important it was for investors to engage and keep an eye on  all the companies they invest in - who would have expected Tesco's to have behaved in such a way? Trinity Mirror refused to accept that they had a problem with the Hacking scandal but all the information from "Hacked off" proved to be true. How could Barclay's justify giving three times as much money in bonuses as they returned to investors?

One of the most positive engagements he experienced was after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh when reputable companies were coming to us to explain what they had done and what they were planning to do. There was no investor rush to exist Bangladesh which would have not helped.

Sir Cockell pointed out that with engagement "you may lose the vote at Company AGM but still win the argument"

Vice Chair of LAPFF, Cllr Rose discussed the engagement he has had on Carbon risk with the UK major oil majors and the fall out from falling prices.

Cllr Geening talked about how engagement can take time and be difficult. Such as the lack of progress with National Express on their anti trade union activity in the USA. Management don't think there is a problem. However, it took time for similar issues to be dealt with at First Bus and engagement did eventually work.

I raised a question to the panel about whether they would support disinvestment in a company as a last resort if engagement failed?

The panel response was as a very last resort they would consider disinvestment but it would have to be at the very end of the road. The whole purpose of engagement is to change company behaviour and if we walk away from a company then it won't necessarily change anything.

There was a good point made about what would be the future of engagement if the LGPS was forced to invest only in passive (tracker funds) and therefore could never disinvest.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

LAPFF Conference 2014: Public Funds & Public Purpose

Yesterday I came back from the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) conference. I will post more on the conference later on.

It was I think the best attended LAPFF conference I have been to which reflects the huge changes and chellenges that the Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) faces and that membership of LAPFF is at an all time high.

The conference opened with a welcome from LAPFF Chair, Cllr Kieran Quinn Greater Manchester Pension Fund.

The Conference Chair was Sir Merrick Cockell, former Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council and the Local Government Association. He is now deputy Chair of LPFA. I found his remark that "No matter what your politics are you must be concerned about the under supply of housing" interesting.

He also said that we nationally need to invest in infrastructure for not only social purposes, but for sustainable and better returns than gilts & bonds. He believes the future is pooling & collective investments and you don't just need sovereign investment funds such as Qatar for such infrastructure & housing projects.

In the past Sir Cockell has publicly supported the merger of all 101 LGPS into just 5 funds and that this could result in some 300,000 new homes being built every year.

Next was a debate on LAPFF "engagement".

Friday, December 05, 2014

PSI names every single health worker killed by Ebola ...




We were shown this powerful video at the UNISON National Executive meeting this week. The meeting also sent our support to the 1000 NHS workers who have volunteered to go to West Africa to fight Ebola. Many of whom will of course be UNISON members.

"Over 300 workers have died on the job in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, trying to save lives and contain the Ebola outbreak. They were doctors, nurses, midwives, cleaners, ambulance drivers, pharmacists, community health workers – among others. PSI wants to remember all of those workers one by one, name by name. We will honour their sacrifice by pledging to ensure that all workers enjoy safe working conditions everywhere and to strengthen the fight for quality public healthcare for all." Read more at http://bit.ly/1rkOv7f

Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI)

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Why do the Tories love the financial services industry? Follow the money...

"The latest figures from the Electoral Commission reveal that in the last quarter, hedge funds gave the Tories £1.34 million in donations, bringing the overall total to £51.1 million. These are, of course, the same hedge funds which were given a tax cut worth £145 million by George Osborne in 2013.

A further analysis shows that almost £3 million of donations in the last quarter came from donors who have attended exclusive private dinners with David Cameron and other senior ministers, taking the total to £7.7 million from dinner donors in 2014.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth said: “The Tory election campaign will be funded by those who dine exclusively at the PM’s top table and a select few in the hedge fund industry. They have been given tax breaks while hard-working families are struggling to make ends meet. The Tories are standing up for those at the top at the expense of working people across the country. Whether putting private profit before patient care in the NHS or siding with the energy industry over consumers struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, David Cameron stands up for the wrong people.”

Contrary to David Cameron’s 2010 election pledge, the Conservative party still relies heavily for its funding on individuals and companies associated with asset management. The most recent donations include: just under £303,000 from Michael S Farmer of RK capital management; over £260,000 from James R. Lupton of Greenhill; £176,000 from Christopher Rokos of Brevan Howard; and almost £112,000 from Andrew Law of Caxton Europe Asset Management. But given that Conservative party membership has fallen by over 100,000 since Cameron took over as Leader, it is small wonder that he is relying on a small pool of mega rich donors who can buy access to ministers. The latest figures show that they amount to 40 per cent of all party donations, up from 25 per cent in the quarter starting from April this year.

In June, in response to a question from Labour and MP and Tribune columnist Stephen Pound, Cameron promised to publish the results of Lord Gold’s inquiry into the cash-for-access scandal. He still has not done so. No surprise there, then".

Hat tip John Street's Diary at Tribune 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Debate on Local Government Pay dispute




Today during the meeting of UNISON National Executive Committee there was a wide ranging discussion on the recent dispute on Local Government pay. For some reason I was reminded of this lovely song. I have updated some of the words in honour of the occasion.

"You say defeatist, I say realist; 
You say sell out, I say fantasist; 
You say betrayal, I say strike chasers; 
conspiracy ,delusion, naivety; 
Let's call the whole thing off...".

Some good news is that I am going to be the special guest of Lambeth branch at the Special Local Government conference which will held next year. Hopefully I can speak on their behalf about future strike winning tactics.